Healthy Children - December 2014

Small changes can help our kids overcome obesity

When Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine in 1953, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief  Today we don't have to worry about losing our children to polio. But we do need to be concerned  about the number of our children who are overweight.

One in three American children is overweight or obese. African-American, Hispanic and Native American children are even more likely to be overweight. The rise in childhood obesity has resulted in an alarming increase in diabetes among children. More than 20,000 children have type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We know obesity is affecting our children. But how many of us have taken responsibility to help reverse the trend. Our children can change and have healthier outcomes if we as parents, guardians, family members and friends are willing to do our part to help them.

The causes of childhood obesity are well-known:

  1. Lack of physical exercise;
  2. Consumption of fast food, sugary snacks and high calorie drinks like soda and juice containing high fructose com syrup.

The good news is we adults hold the purse strings, debit cards and wallets. We are the ones who buy what our kids eat and make the majority of our family's purchasing decisions. If our children are overweight, the buck stops with us. We must fess up to what we are putting in our grocery carts and be willing to change.
By making small changes, we can make a big difference. Our children are certainly worth it. Here are my top 10 suggestions to help our children get healthier.

  1. Replace soda, diet soda and fruit juice with plain, old-fashioned water. Serve water in special glasses over ice with a twist of lemon.
  2. For snacks, replace sweets with fruit, unsweetened apple sauce with raisins, graham crackers, or sliced cheese and crackers. Yum.
  3. Pop popcorn in canola or olive oil instead of buying microwave popcorn. Children love watching popcorn burst into kernels. Add salt and butter for a healthier (and less expensive) treat than the microwaveable version.
  4. Limit trips through the drive through. If you eat fast food 4-5 times a week, cut back to two to three times a week. The other days, make simple meals at home using eggs, beans, rice, potatoes, fresh and frozen vegetables and lean meats.
  5. Limit your kids' access to TV and technology to 1-2 hours a day or to weekends.Encourage your children to be active by riding their bikes, scooting their scooters, jumping rope or playing other games that require them to move. If your neighborhood is safe and they are old enough, have them walk to the nearest park or school playground. If your children are young, you'll have to take them to the playground. I know you're tired from working all day and the last thing you want to do is go anywhere. But you gotta do it. Remember, it's a matter of your children's health.
  6. When shopping, resist the urge to pull into the parking spot closest to the entrance. Park further away so everyone gets more exercise.
  7. Prepare meals together. Kids love to help in the kitchen and enjoy trying foods they've helped prepare. Always be safe and assist your children when they are using knives and other sharp kitchen tools.
  8. Model a healthy lifestyle. If you want your children to drink more water, you're going to have to drink more water. If you're carrying extra weight, start walking more and implementing small changes in your diet as well.
  9. Eat meals together at the kitchen or dining room table and away from the TV. Studies show we eat more when watching TV.
  10. Lastly, make sure your children get enough sleep. There is a link between lack of sleep and obesity. The chart below recommends how much sleep children should get based on their age.

Birth-6 Months   16-20 hours
6-12 Months      14-15 hours
Ages 1-3           10-13 hours
Ages3-10          10-12 hours
Ages 11-12            10 hours
Teenagers               9 hours

Donna  Treadwell is a mother of four  and freelance writer. She works for SIU School of Medicine and is a member of the Springfield Collaborative to Reduce Childhood Obesity. Treadwell is available to speak to your group about helping children become healthier. For more information, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..