Research tells us that inactivity and obesity may pose our greatest health risk, especially for children.
One report took a look at babies, toddlers and preschoolers. They found that one in five preschoolers 2 to 5 years old are overweight or obese, and that some parents and doctors are still unaware of the problem. The report also suggested that preschoolers should get at least 15 minutes of physical activity for every hour they spend in day care.
How many parents know that when they shop for child care?
Parents and child care providers should focus on instilling good health habits in children at a very early age.
Speaking of the eating habits of children, the report said that babies turn away from milk when full, but children as young as 2 or 3 become sensitive to larger portion sizes. When consistently offered larger portions, young children will begin to eat the larger portions – just like most of us adults.
Other studies point out that parents who are obese often raise obese children. According to a report in the Sutter Regional Foundation newsletter some time ago, if children are overweight, this increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In the same newsletter, an article written by Sutter pediatrician Dr. Randolph Thomas offered this advice for parents:
Exercise is also given a high priority: Play soccer, swim, dance, ride a bike or just take a family walk; avoid spending too much time sitting in front of the TV, or playing computer and video games; and drink lots of water.
Sometimes parents are embarrassed that their child or children are obese, blaming themselves for the problem. But there are also other factors that influence childhood obesity such as fast-food ads, lack of school physical education, school lunches and other factors that are outside a parent’s control.
But these influences don’t let parents off the hook. Getting junk food out of the cupboard, limiting TV time and most of all, being a good role model come under a parent’s control, as most children tend to model their parents’ behavior.
Once when I served as a school principal, and, though, we had a good physical education curriculum, a parent asked if I would jog with her child after school. I suggested that a daily walk would make an excellent after-dinner family activity. It sounds simple but walking is still one of the best exercises.
Forcing harsh dietary rules and other stringent behaviors, especially when parents don’t live up to their own standards, can be counter-productive, one researcher noted: “I’ve often heard a parent chastising their child about his or her weight, though the parent plainly was obese. One doctor’s visit will not solve obesity, and it doesn’t help when the doctor can only advise, ‘Your child just needs to eat less and exercise more.’ ”
If only it were that easy for children and parents.
Before the Great Recession, some companies began rewarding their employees with incentives to lose weight. This can be a significant step for the entire family, as it can influence how the family eats and exercises. There’s certainly an incentive here, too, for the employer to deal with prevention instead of paying the health bills later.
There are numerous studies that show children who have a healthy diet do better in school. Some studies also show that school programs that connect grade school children with where food comes from and school gardening programs can help improve childhood obesity.
The federal government for the first time issued new standards for foods served in school cafeterias. Vending machines must sell water, diet sodas and baked chips. Many schools have already made significant improvements in their lunch menus. Food sold through vending machines outside the lunchroom isn’t federally regulated. Recently, I’ve read that in a few schools, students are rebelling by refusing to eat the new lunches.
Not a wise decision, I’d say to parents and students alike.
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.