Kids are fat: Reasons why and Ways to Stop It

Childhood obesity has been markedly on the rise in the past few years. In the past quarter century alone, the rate of childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled. Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet and lack of exercise is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year, and any obese child is much more likely to fall into this category in later life. Obesity is linked to heart problems, diabetes, and reproductive failure. Childhood obesity causes “liver, lung, heart and musculoskeletal complications” (Obesity in America, 2011:3), as well as psychological ones. While obesity is a widespread problem, that is easy to fall into, there is no easy solution. The causes are fairly simple: food choices, level of physical activity, and level of emotional stress.

Food choices are the easiest and most enjoyable for parents to correct in their children early on: “research indicates that parents’ food selections are related to demographic characteristics of the family” (Gable and Lutz, 2000:293). This essentially means that research has shown trends in eating among certain types of families. Factors like household income and parent presence in the home full time greatly affect the availability of healthy choices for kids in the home. In addition, school lunches tend to be unhealthy because major food companies have a stake in the system and lobby the government to protect school lunch income for their companies. Parents can help fix both of these things in three simple steps: be present, be vocal, and be aware. Presence is likely the hardest step for most working parents, but a few hours a month can make a major difference for kids. Those few hours I’m talking about are the ones spent at a super market. By being present and conscious while making decisions about the food to bring into the home, and maybe bringing the child along for the ride as a learning experience, can majorly reduce the negative effects of eating. Being vocal is difficult for busy parents, but the power of the vote in this country is essential to every little issue, including the issue of school lunches. By being vocal with government officials and forcing them to be held accountable for their actions, parents may be able to make a change in public schools. Awareness, however, is the key to the other two. Parents need to pay attention to their kid’s food intake, as well as their own, in order to help guide their child towards better options. It is balance, not low calories, that is the key to a child’s healthy future.

Exercise is the next key problem, but thankfully has similar solutions. Active parenting skills, in the same ways as with food, apply to physical activity in children. “The only children who lose weight come from families who are motivated and committed” (Schatz, 2011:2) says Daniel Taylor, a pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. It is important for kids not only to have parents who pay attention to their exercise, but parents who encourage and participate in physical activity with their children are much more effective in combating obesity and unhealthy habits in their children.

Lastly, the tricky problem of emotional eating; while it isn’t foolproof, active and loving parents can sometimes combat this by using simple coping mechanisms with their kids, like talking about their feelings and eating at set meal times as a family. By maintaining a stable and caring environment, and designating meals as time to spend together, parents can avoid the pitfalls many children and adolescents fall into of eating when they’re sad, bored, or lonely.





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