Everyone from politicians to parents is talking about fighting the war against childhood flab. It is odd that in a relatively wealthy countries such as the US and Australia improving children’s health, weight and fitness should be a problem but it appears to be a sticking point with many.
Childhood obesity in a developed country like Australia and the United States is essentially a lifestyle issue. Children are overweight because they eat inappropriate amounts and types of food and they don’t exercise enough. To put it simply many children are stacking on the weight because calorie intake is higher than calories burned.
Children’s lifestyles are generally a reflection of those who raise them so parents need to figure heavily in any strategies put forward to improve the health and wellbeing of the next generation.
The trouble is many parents have grown accustomed to outsourcing those hard to deal with issues such as sexuality and drug education to schools and other agencies. Children’ health and well-being is an issue that parents should take prime responsibility for. Parents can beat childhood obesity rather than leave it up to schools to fix or politicians to meddle with.
Here is a simple, fool-proof lifestyle plan that parents can adopt to ensure their children grow up healthy and fit rather than overweight and unhealthy:
1. Limit the amount of children’s television, computer and electronic games usage to a maximum of two hours a day. Very little physical exertion is needed to watch TV or use other electronic equipment so for the sake of fitness their use of these needs to be limited. Send children outside, suggest they walk or ride to a friend’s house or even suggest they have a friend or four over to play. One third of Australian children would prefer to play computer games than play outside so parents may have to be assertive and, at times, over-zealous but so be it.
2. Children walk or ride a bike to school each day. Recent Roy Morgan research revealed that 60 per cent of Australian 6 – 13 year olds would like to walk to school but only 30 per cent actually do. Most children would get their required minimum two hours of exercise a week by walking or riding their bikes to school. This may mean that parents may have to walk to school with younger children or ensure they are adequately supervised. Bike riding is not safe for every child but more bike tracks in the vicinity of schools would be a great start.
3. Keep unhealthy food out of the trolley and include more fruit. This may be stating the bleeding obvious but as keepers of the family purse parents have the main stake in what food goes in and what stays out of the shopping trolley. It seems that parents are on the right track as more Australian children eat fruit after school than sweet biscuits but even so the number of fruit eaters can do with a boost. Only 43 per cent of Australian children eat fruit after school so more fruit could be a good place to start.
4. Serve healthy meals at the table on a regular basis. The humble ritual that sees adults and children who are related to each other breaking bread together on a daily or at least regular basis has a lot going for it. Far from being a refuelling stop mealtime is an opportunity for everyone to catch up and to share good healthy, well-prepared food. True, busyness of life get in the way of this healthy ritual but it is about getting our priorities right.
5. Parents play with their children or join them in a physical activity. The family that plays together stays thin together could well be the motto of our times. It should be easy for adults to sell their children on the virtues of playing physical games outside as play comes before work in most children’s dictionaries. Fathers tend to be the kings of play but work and other lifestyle factors can get in the way.
6. Encourage children to be involved in at least one organised physical activity each week. Some parents may need to be insistent but 88 per cent of Australian children say they enjoy sport so getting children motivated for physical activity shouldn’t be hard. There is no shortage of options for children these days as there are activities and sports that cater of a diverse range of interests, abilities and body types.
7. Parents model a healthy lifestyle. Do as I do not as I say is the idea here. It is little use parents telling their kids to go out and play as they tuck into their second wine or they slump into the couch. Modelling is the most important tool in the armoury if we want children to develop sustained healthy eating and exercise habits. For the record, a healthy lifestyle is one where people talk to each other (ideal for emotional well-being), one where food and alcohol intake occurs in moderation and physical activity is a natural part of the day.
This plan has a great deal going for it. It is cost-free, easy to use and places the responsibility where it lay – with parents. It also has the added bonus of promoting healthy relationships as if they follow this plan parents and kids should spend more time together which can’t be a bad thing.
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