If one of more of your children is overweight or obese, you are in good company. In the United States, approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese. In Israel, about 13% are either overweight or obese. Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled. Today, about 1 in 3 American kids and teens is overweight or obese – nearly triple the rate since 1963. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the #1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.
Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. This past May, Israeli researchers were able to establish a link between childhood obesity and cancer. Those who are obese have a 42% greater likelihood to develop cancer. There are also psychological effects: obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Parents can be frustrated and often at times, feel helpless. The question is, what changes can you can implement that will make a lasting difference and help ensure your children’s future health?
One thing that will surely fail with children and adolescents is attempting to force them to change habits. Children are not home most of the day to begin with, and whether it is a party in the classroom for finishing a Parsha of Chumash, a Chanukah celebration in school or spending time with a friend, most of this is not under your control. They will find a way to find the food they want and certainly can use it as a form of rebellion. Instead try to remember two basic rules: 1) arrange the environment in the home for success, and 2) set a proper example.
Don’t try to control things that you can’t control but absolutely DO control what is available in your household. When your children come home from school, leave cut vegetable sticks and fruits out on the table. At the beginning, they may still come home and look for an unhealthy snack such as a bag of chips or a candy bar, but slowly, over time, they will begin trying the healthy items also. They may even prefer it. Try introducing some whole grain products into their meals. For instance, mix some whole grain pasta into the white flour pasta to get started. Eventually, try to use brown rice and whole grain breads. Make sure you serve fresh salads and cooked vegetables at your meals, and even though you may have cakes and cookies for dessert, try to have a fresh fruit choice as well. Keep a limited number of unhealthy snacks in your home, and make one unhealthy treat a day the limit. This way you are giving them what they want but in limited amounts. Drs. Jennifer L. Miller, M.D. and Janet H. Silverstein, M. D. wrote in a 2007 paper on Childhood Obesity that it is important to introduce lifestyle changes instead of fad diets for your overweight children.
Here is a rule not just for weight loss, but for healthy living as well. Don’t expect your child to do things that you aren’t doing yourself. If you and your spouse are overweight, it is time to take control of your life so your children will learn that positive behavior from you. So many parents come into our offices with their adolescents and expect them to learn a healthy lifestyle in some type of vacuum. YOU ARE YOUR CHILDREN’S MOST VISIBLE AND IMPORTANT ROLE MODEL! Make this a family project and you are more likely to see favorable results.
Now that we’ve defined how you can help in abroad way, stay tuned for Part II to learn about age-specific activity plans that will benefit not only your child, but your whole family.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 17 years of professional experience. In addition to his private consultations and personalized workout programs, Alan is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc . Lose It! now features special programs for Seminary Girls and Yeshiva Boys. Alan can be reached at 1-516-568-5027, 972-2-651-8502 or his cell phone 972-50-555-7175. Email: [email protected]
Visit the Lose It! website www.loseit.co.il