By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Raising healthy children in terms of proper nutrition and exercise is critically important to your kids’ long-term health. But as a father of two children, I understand how conflicting responsibilities between a job, school responsibilities and family life cause parents to overlook this important issue.
When both parents are working, when a spouse is deployed in the military or when someone is a hard-working single parent, childhood obesity can be especially easy to overlook. According to a 2017-2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 14.7 million children and adolescents suffer from obesity.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Increased Childhood Obesity
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on childhood obesity due to the cancellation of sports events, school closures and quarantines. The CDC study found that the body mass index (BMI) of people ranging from two to 19 years of age has nearly doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, which is why parents should encourage their children to regularly exercise and consume a proper diet.
Children’s Health Problems Associated with Poor Nutrition
Poor nutrition can lead to various health problems for children and teenagers. The health problems associated with poor nutrition in children include:
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
Some of the contributing factors that lead to childhood obesity include eating unhealthy foods like processed or fried foods, overeating, and a failure to eat enough vegetables and fruit.
Some Parents Fail to Acknowledge That Their Children Are Overweight
At times, parental perception contributes to childhood obesity. For instance, parents may feel that their child’s weight is normal or that the child is simply going through a phase that will be outgrown and the child will lose weight later.
In fact, one study found that 62% of parents with obese children had the perception that their child’s weight was healthy and normal. However, it is crucial to explore the underlying causes of why a child is overweight, such as poor nutrition and a lack of exercise.
Strategies for Dealing with Childhood Obesity
Fortunately, there are strategies that can help overweight children lose weight without damaging their self-esteem. Simply telling children that they are fat and need to lose weight can have serious, long-term consequences on their mental health.
Strategies for helping overweight children to progress to a healthy weight include:
- Making healthy meals at home
- Ensuring that excess calories are not being unknowingly consumed through high-sugar soda, juices or snacks
- Teaching children about healthy portion sizes and nutritious foods
- Setting the example by eating the same healthy foods that you encourage your children to eat
- Reducing the use of television, social media sites, or video games and encouraging the child to participate in outdoor activities
According to my colleague, School of Health Sciences professor Dr. Daniel Graetzer, “A diet and exercise program with the goal of reducing one to two pounds of body fat per week is the most flexible, effective way to reduce body fat percentage, decrease body weight and maintain muscle mass. When energy input is equally compensated by energy output, the body is said to be in equal caloric balance. In other words, if you burn off the same number of calories you consume, your body weight will remain the same.” Dr. Graetzer is an expert in exercise science and sports science.
Parents play an essential role in preventing or mitigating childhood obesity, which can have a positive impact on children throughout their lives. Parents can contribute to their children’s health and reduce childhood obesity by helping their children to maintain an active lifestyle and eat a healthy diet. Emphasizing the benefits of good nutrition and exercise can help healthy children develop into healthy adults.