Across the United States, approximately one in five children struggle with obesity. While obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors, there are some things families can work on together to help decrease the risk of developing severe weight concerns and associated conditions like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
According to Julie Benard, MD, FAAP, DABOM, pediatrician at Cape Physician Associates, a Saint Francis Medical Partner, “A major source of excess sugar and calorie intake for some kids is their beverages. Drinks with added sugar such as juice, sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, chocolate and strawberry milk and sodas, can quickly add up to more than the recommended amount of added sugar intake of six teaspoons per day and may contribute to increasing weight. Similarly, decreasing snacks with added sugars and opting for healthier options like fruits and vegetables can give kids fiber, an important component of their nutrition, as well as keep calories and added sugar intake lower.”
Bernard also reminds parents to “keep track of boredom eating and snacking outside of set meals and snack times. As families have spent more time at home over the last year and may have more accessibility to foods, boredom eating has been more common for both kids and adults.”
Ask yourself (or have your child think to themselves) – am I really hungry or just looking for something to do? If outside of set meal/snack times, consider having a list of things to do on the pantry or fridge that can help with that feeling. Things like dancing, doing a craft project or going outside to play for 15-20 minutes may help to curb that false sense of hunger. If still feeling hungry, having readily available healthy snacks like pre-sliced fruits and vegetables or string cheese may be helpful.
Parents can also encourage children to decrease their time spent on electronics. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours/day of screen time for electronic use outside of school needs for kids age 2 years and older and aiming for activities that keep them moving instead.
Bernard encourages parents to remember “changes made as a family tend to last longer than changes an individual is trying to make by themselves. Parents can be great role models for their kids in terms of healthy lifestyle choices – taking walks together as a family or trying a new healthy recipe together not only encourages healthy activity and nutrition, but also bonding time.”