Children now are becoming obese.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects one in six American children and adolescents.
How Unhealthy Eating and Obesity Affects Children
Why is childhood obesity so high and increasing? Researchers sometimes say it is due to lack of exercise or too much junk food, but obesity is a more complex health issue.
Numerous factors usually contribute to childhood obesity, including environmental factors, increased caloric intake, excessive sugar intake, like in soft drinks. Larger portions and too little physical activity are also high among contributing factors.
Children are attracted to junk-food ads and manufacturers constantly target kids with tempting food ads. Kids influence parents to purchase products and can become lifelong customers so they are easy targets for food companies.
When it comes to nutrition and childhood obesity, over-consumption becomes a problem. According to a National Center for Health Statistics survey, children consume about 17% of their total calories from added sugars, which is much greater than the 5%-15% of total calories the U.S. 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend can come from discretionary calories, which are those that you really do not need.
Obesity, in general, is damaging to one’s health, but it is even more harmful for kids. Childhood obesity may impact kids’ social and emotional well-being, self-esteem, academic performance, and quality of life. Obesity is also associated with numerous metabolic, heart; orthopedic; brain, liver, lung, and kidneys disorders.
Unfortunately, unhealthy kids oftentimes become unhealthy adults. The CDC reports more than 100 million American adults now have diabetes or prediabetes. Researchers predict disease statistics will only increase over the coming decades.
How to Teach Your Kids to Eat Healthy
But children – and everyone, needs to eat their veggies. Researchers associate higher vegetable intake with lower risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several cancers, and obesity.
Unfortunately, most kids consume fewer than the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, which ranges from one cup for an infant to five to six servings for a teenager. In fact, one study showed less than 15% of children in the U.S. between the ages of four and eight consume the recommended amounts of fruit and veggies.
How to Teach Your Kids Healthy Eating Habits
Eating healthy does not have to be expensive, time-consuming, or not appetizing. Getting your picky eight-year-old or too-cool-for-dinner adolescent to make healthier choices can feel like a massive mountain to climb, but the results will pay off. These five strategies can make raising healthy kids easier so they become healthy adults.
Start building healthy habits early.
Introduce fruits and veggies into kids’ diets when they are young. Researchers find when kids are exposed to vegetables before they turn two, they like them more and eat more of them later in life. Start with fruit. An organic banana with no-sugar-added almond butter is a yummy treat. Or try frozen berries in unsweetened coconut yogurt. These become great foods that boost your kid’s health while satisfying their sweet tooth.
Fruit tends to be easier to get kids to like because it is sweeter, but don’t forget about including vegetables too. Children who eat whole fruit have been found to make better food choices overall.
Pack healthy lunches.
Healthy lunches for kids might include Romaine lettuce in their gluten-free wrap, broccoli and other vegetables with hummus, and an organic apple. In fact, schools that introduced healthy eating and physical activity programs to kindergartens found the students were more willing to try healthy foods after being introduced to them.
Be an example.
Research shows parents can heavily impact the amount of fruits and vegetables their kids and adolescents eat. Make them delicious and eat them yourself, and your children will more likely become vegetable-loving adults. Plus, children learn by mimicking others, if they see you eating healthy, they will likely do the same. Researchers find children learn eating behaviors by watching their parents, peers, and siblings and that healthy habits stick.
Cut out the added sugars.
There are hidden sugars in numerous foods you might think are healthy:
- Pasta sauce
- Granola bars
- Instant oatmeal
- Salad dressing
- Juice and soda
Sugar-sweetened soda doesn’t just increase your child’s risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, but research shows that individuals who drink soda have a higher rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), partially due to obesity.
Soft drinks are the leading source of added sugar worldwide. But orange juice and other fruit juices aren’t any better. They can have as much sugar as a soda, yet contain none of the fiber of real fruit. Try lemon-infused water or freshly brewed iced green tea sweetened with organic stevia.
Go whole, not processed.
The more a food or drink becomes processed, the fewer nutrients and more likely it will contain additives and preservatives. Whole foods, in their natural forms, keep their nutrients, fiber, and other phytochemicals. Choose organic, whole foods whenever possible. Along with nutrients, they may even taste better than their processed versions.
Think about teaching your children and teens healthy habits as a sort of education, like riding a bike or managing money. While it might be challenging, incorporating health food into your kids’ diets will help them avoid childhood obesity and other health problems in the long run.