It's a common misconception that a child's body is inherently healthy, and that care and upkeep isn't exactly a necessity right away. While a child's body certainly bounces back quicker than that of an adult's, it's imperative to instill the importance of a healthy lifestyle early on, as habits learned in childhood are likely to follow your children into adulthood. One key thing to control at an early age is your child's weight.
"Asthma can make it difficult for children to lose weight."
Importance of a healthy weight during childhood
Being overweight as a child can lead to physical health problems, as well as emotional distress. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who are overweight or obese may be at a greater risk of developing asthma, especially if they carry most of their weight around their abdomen. This chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways can make it tough for children to take the weight off, as difficulty breathing during exercise is the most common symptom of asthma.
Overweight children are also more likely to develop heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and sleep problems, like sleep apnea. Excess weight can also contribute to low self-esteem or even being bullied. Kids on the playground can be ruthless about body issues.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, approximately one in three children are overweight or obese. It isn't only important to help your child reach a healthy weight for his or her physical and mental health, but also for his or her future well-being, when health-related issues are more difficult to treat or reverse. Being overweight in childhood can increase his or her chances of being overweight as an adult.
Is my child overweight?
It can be difficult to tell if your child's weight is healthy. Once an adult has finished growing, his or her weight usually plateaus, making it easy to know if he or she has gained weight. Children, however, are constantly growing, so it may be tough to tell if they still just have "baby fat" and will lean out when they hit puberty. While the body mass index scale has come under fire in recent years for being an inaccurate way to determine whether an adult's weight is healthy, a children's BMI scale is more reliable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a child and teen BMI calculator to use as an indicator of whether your child's weight is healthy. However, it is still important to talk to your child's doctor about any concerns you may have.
How to be a healthy role model
Your children learn the most from you. If you're concerned about your kid's weight and health, the best way to combat these problems is to lead by example. When it comes to healthy eating and proper exercise, let your children see you practicing the habits you preach to them. Here are some tips:
- Make exercise a family affair. Rather than doing sedentary activities, like going to the movies, plan family outings that get everyone moving. Go for a hike at the closest park, walk around the zoo or rollerblade around the neighborhood. If these kinds of activities become commonplace at home, your children will begin asking to participate in more physical activities.
- Ask your child if he or she would like to join a sport. Teams aren't for everyone, but exposing your child to different types of sports, like team activities or something more solitary like gymnastics will give him or her the opportunity to learn what he or she enjoys.
- Keep unhealthy snacks out of the house. While the occasional cheese cracker isn't horrible for your children, try keeping the focus on healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables, rather than packaged foods. Keep veggies cut and ready to go in the fridge and have a variety of fruits on hand so your children have choices.
- Make small portions. Don't force your children to clean their plates if they're finished eating. While food waste is a real concern, so is conditioning your child to overeat. Consider a compost container so you don't have to feel guilty about putting edible food down the garbage disposal.