In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents, nearly 23 million, were overweight or obese. Obesity rates have tripled over the past thirty years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of obese children ages 6-11 increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. A similar increase was found in adolescents ages 12-19, obesity rates increased from 5% to 18% during the same time period. Childhood obesity is a national epidemic. Being overweight or obese puts children and adolescents at an earlier increased risk for type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even stroke.
Growing up, I was an overweight child. Food was a reward or it was shared with “love”. When “love” became a weight problem, special meals were prepared just for me. The needed changes weren’t incorporated into the family’s diet, this caused me to feel excluded and isolated. Not unlike other overweight children, I was also bullied and these experiences among others caused me to be an emotional eater well into my adulthood.
As I stepped into my role as a child health advocate, drawing from my experiences as an overweight child and obese adult, I understood the need for sensitivity when talking to children about body image. So I decided to make the pursuit of health easier for the children I worked with—by making fitness fun. I wasn’t at my goal weight when I began coaching, but I did NOT allow this to stop me from exercising and being active with the children. We became one another’s motivation.
Addressing childhood obesity isn’t just about changing diet and encouraging exercise, it’s about adopting a new lifestyle, a lifestyle modeled by the family unit. While addressing childhood obesity is a daunting task, there are simple steps each family can follow.
- Involve your children in grocery shopping; allow them to pick a new fruit or vegetable each time you shop.
- Teach your children how to read nutrition labels.
- Allow children to plan a family meal and give them the opportunity to lead meal preparation.
- Encourage your children to “Taste the Rainbow”, by eating different color fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise as a family, walk around the park, play a game of tag or touch football.
Addressing the concerns of overweight and obese children does not end with physical health. Being overweight or obese can affect metal health, emotional health and educational outcomes.
The school environment is integral in the fight against childhood obesity. The ideal environment will create and support healthy eating and physical activity. This environment is created by the administration, maintained by the staff and supported by family and friends. Improper diet, skipping meals, and lack of physical activity can lead to absenteeism, inability to concentrate, poor cognition, and decreased classroom engagement.
Parents and teachers, please visit this #hoodhealth approved resource.
Kaleb “Coach KJ” Hill is the CEO and founder of FitnessFleet, a health and wellness company. For more information, visit FitnessFleet online and on Twitter. Follow Kaleb at CoachKJMD2Be.