Nearly one in five school-age children in the U.S. is considered obese, a number that has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reasons for childhood obesity are varied, including eating habits and amount of physical activity, how much sleep a child gets, metabolism and genetics, and what kind of community a child lives in - whether it’s safe for the child to play outdoors.
With a rise in popularity of smartphones and tablet computers, it’s no wonder that obesity rates have gone up. In previous generations, children played outdoors. Fewer and fewer children now do, whether it’s by choice or because they live in an area where it’s not safe.
The availability of convenience foods could also be to blame. While school lunches are generally healthier than they used to be, junk food and snack items like chips, crackers, cookies and other snacks are readily available. As a parent, it’s far easier to grab a “variety bag” of snack bag size chips or cookies than it is to cut up veggies or fruit. With picky eaters, it can be easier sometimes to just let children eat what they are willing to eat.
But then obesity can become an issue.
I will admit, we prize convenience in my household. With my husband and me working three jobs between the two of us, plus juggling the schedules of three busy children, any food that is fast and something our kids are willing to eat quickly becomes a go-to. I’m not proud of it, but before my youngest daughter was 2, she knew the names of McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s. We would drive by Little Caesar’s on the way home from day-care each day and she would shout from her car seat “Sticks! Sticks!” because she wanted us to stop and get breadsticks from the pizza restaurant’s drive-through window.
In general, as a mom of three children, if I can go somewhere and either get hot food or groceries without getting out of my car, I will. Convenience wins the day.
Much like dinner - whatever is easiest, generally wins as far as the kids’ lunches are concerned: Lunchables, snack packs, chips, Capri Suns. Our kids’ lunchboxes generally haven’t been the healthiest. But they are items the kids eat, and obesity hasn’t been a concern - until now.
Recently, as we were putting our kids to bed, our 8-year-old son pinched the fat on his stomach and commented that he needed to go to the gym. While our son has gained more weight this year than usual, it’s not something we’ve discussed. I’m not sure where he has heard this talk, as we don’t talk about weight in our house, because we don’t want our children to be overly body-conscious. But as I was cleaning the kids’ playroom last week, I found half-eaten apple cores stuck under couch cushions, empty chip bags stuffed under the sofa; an empty cookie box on the floor by the couch.
My kids love fruits and generally do well with vegetables. However it’s become obvious that my husband and I need to do better with what we buy and how accessible it is. I want my children to make smart choices and be able to eat when they are hungry. But our kitchen cannot be a 24-hour junk food buffet.
I know it’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m making a resolution anyway to turn around the way my kids eat at home. I want my kids to have long, healthy lives. And some of those healthy habits begin now at home.
Here are some healthy food tips from KidsHealth.org:
- Parents control the supply lines, deciding what foods are bought and when to serve them. Adults should be in charge ensuring that healthy foods are available.
- Kids should have some say in what they eat. Schedule regular meal and snack times and let the child decide what to eat and how much, based on the selections you choose.
- Quit the “clean-plate club.” Kids should stop eating when they feel full.
- Start children young trying a variety of foods.
- When eating out, let your kids try new foods, letting them try whatever you order.
- Occasional sweets are fine, but don’t turn dessert into a prize for eating the main meal.
- Be a role model and eat healthy yourself.
- Limit TV and computer/electronics time.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.