Standing 5 feet 6 inches and approaching 200 pounds during my late adolescent/early teenage years, I can still recall the many times family members referred to me as having “baby fat”. Even at my young age I remember being annoyed by this statement, as in my heart, I knew that my ever-expanding waistline was solely due to all the fast food and junk food I regularly indulged in day in and day out.
Interestingly enough, a primary difference between my situation then and that of many kids these days is the fact that my parents weren’t enabling my unhealthy eating behaviors.
They didn’t know I had been walking 3-plus miles to and from school to save my bus fare in an effort to buy rib tips, fried chicken, and French fries smothered in sauce from the local barbecue house. They didn’t know when I was running short of cash, my friends would foot the food bill. Being taller and bigger than most girls my age, I was quite a dominant force so this was pretty easy to do.
However, once my secret eating habits were uncovered, my mother took immediate action, which ultimately led to an almost immediate 65-pound weight loss.
Let me reiterate: My mother took action.
You see, whether or not we want to accept the truth, the childhood obesity epidemic has its roots in parental accountability.
Who’s bringing the junk food into the house for children to eat? Who’s controlling the amount of hours children spend watching television, browsing the Internet, or playing video games? It’s us, the parents. We are in the driver’s seat. As such, the first step to fighting childhood obesity is through parental intervention.
Still, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that many parents themselves aren’t at all familiar with what constitutes good nutrition nor do they really encourage regular physical activity. This is one of the reasons why I often focus my attention to parents when it comes to health education. Once parents are educated, they tend to interact with their children in ways that enforce behavioral change.
But, parents must first accept the fact that they may be unknowingly contributing to their child’s weight gain.
This can be extremely difficult for some.
Time and time again I find myself attempting to talk to parents about their child’s eating habits only to hear things like “he/she loves fruit”, “I only get him/her McDonald’s every once in a while”, “kids deserve a treat from time to time”, etc. It is this very way of thinking that you instill in your child’s head to the point that your faulty way of thinking becomes their way of thinking.
Before you know it, their gaining weight right in front of your eyes and you’re calling it “baby fat”.
Sad, but so true!
Now, what do you do about it?
Well, we already know physical activity is important. So, turn off the television and limit computer usage—Maybe even take both away, if necessary. Get your children moving like we used to do! When they come home from school, kick them right back out. Let them run around the backyard, put them on a bike, take them to the playground, or get them involved in sports, whatever works.
Now, although the movement-related aspects of weight management are obvious, healthy eating is a whole other ballgame. Let’s face it, most parents don’t want to go back and forth with their children at mealtime, trying to get them to eat the foods they don’t even want to eat, right?
Whether or not you want to accept it, poor eating habits and inadequate nutrition are most likely the real reasons your child is gaining weight. Sure, you feed them, but what exactly are you feeding them? Do you have a real method of ensuring their nutrient-intake is adequate?
Did you know the average child’s diet is severely lacking in high-quality protein and healthy fats, both of which promote long-term weight management by boosting metabolism and stimulating the body’s natural fat-burning mechanisms?
Is your child getting enough protein from lean meat, poultry, fish, whole soy foods, eggs or dairy products? Is your child’s diet high in the rights kinds of fats housed in foods like salmon, tuna, nuts and nut butters, hummus, and avocado? Most important, are you attempting to meet your child’s nutritional needs with empty calorie foods?
I’m not talking about the obvious ones like candies, pastries, desserts, sugary cereals, processed meats, and junk foods. No, I mean those “low-fat” and “low-calorie” foods masked as “healthy” that are truly “empty” like pretzels, baked chips, low-fat ice cream, fat-free salad dressings, and of course those 100-calorie snack packs.
And then there are the dreaded “fruit juice” drinks, which many parents view as “healthy” alternatives to soda.
In spite of popular belief, all juice drinks aren’t necessarily healthier than soda as many contain nearly equal amounts of calories and sugar. Consuming sugar-rich beverages causes unhealthy spikes in blood glucose (sugar) levels, which can lead to weight gain and a host of other health problems in children.
Finally, is your child getting enough vegetables compared to fruits?
In case you weren’t aware, vegetables trump fruits, as they are usually higher in essential vitamins and minerals but lower in overall calories and sugar. When incorporating fruits into your child’s diet, you should be using a fruit-to-vegetable ratio of at least 1:2 or even 1:3. In other words, for every 2 servings of fruit your child consumes each day, add 4-6 servings of vegetables.
If you’re really concerned about your child gaining weight and the numerous health problems that accompany premature weight gain, you must first accept the fact that it isn’t baby fat and you may very well be contributing to the problem.
With that said, I encourage you to incorporate sensible eating strategies into your lifestyle and your household. Rid yourself of that “we deserve it” and “we don’t do it all the time” mentality and be willing to change your lifestyle for the betterment of your children. This is the only way that we can put an end to this ongoing problem.