two healthy kids cutting vegetables

Tips for Parents: How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Children

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a serious issue that can have dire consequences for the physical and mental health of a child. In 2016, the global rates of overweight infants and young children stood at a shocking 41 million. A pooled analysis study that was published in The Lancet one year later showed a complete picture of childhood obesity trends. These trends showed that childhood obesity continues to get worse and has gotten especially worse over the past four decades. This is why it is good to know the causes of childhood obesity, so we can keep our kids healthy.

It is also important to remember that childhood obesity is not the fault of the child, which is why parents, relatives and all caregivers who are responsible for children are urged to take the necessary steps to turn this situation around. It is important to help children maintain a healthy weight.

How Childhood Obesity Can Affect Lifelong Health

Childhood obesity can affect both mental and physical health, including an increased risk for the following health problems:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Insulin resistance (often an early sign of impending diabetes)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis, which is a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints)
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression

This list may come as a shock for some people, but it is important to remember that it does not have to be so bleak for a child who is overweight, as long as positive steps are taken to help a child reach a healthy weight. By maintaining a healthy weight, it lowers the chances of a child suffering from any of these issues in the future.

The Most Common Causes of Childhood Obesity

Research tells us that there is a connection between children who have overweight parents and children who were subjected to malnutrition during pregnancy or infancy. These children have an increased chance for obesity later in life.

Other factors that can cause obesity are the following:

  • Overeating
  • Children being forced to eat all their food at mealtimes even when they are not hungry
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Over-consuming energy-dense foods
  • Increased screen time
  • Processed food
  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Poverty
  • Poor gut health
  • Lack of food and health education from a young age
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Social and environmental factors

It is important to take into consideration the psychological issues that can be caused by obesity, and the ones that can also lead to obesity. Children who are stressed or suffer from anxiety and depression, are at a higher risk for becoming emotional eaters.

Strategies for Treating and Preventing Childhood Obesity

Taking action is the most important part of tackling childhood obesity. This can be done with acknowledging the issue and then carefully planning and implementing a new, healthier routine. Here are some guidelines for implementing a positive change and reversing childhood obesity.

Healthy Snacking vs Unhealthy Snacking

Not keeping unhealthy snacks around the home is vital for making sure your child reaches their health goals. Snacking can be healthy so long as children have healthy snacks accessible, but even so, children should still be monitored and encouraged to not over-consume snacks too close to mealtimes.

Get Children Cooking

By getting children involved in cooking from a young age you are allowing them to develop not only lifelong skills to be able to make their own meals, but you are also helping them to feel more connected to the food they eat. Potentially, more pleasure will come from eating when they help cook a meal. Cooking with your child is also a perfect bonding opportunity

Gradually Increase Healthier Foods

Even though it would be ideal to remove all unhealthy foods from your child’s diet, this will shock their system and may limit progress, especially because of the emotions that are connected to eating. To help make this new way of life easier, ensure that the transition is gradual. Slowly incorporate foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains and protein, and healthy fat.

Be Strict With Sugar And Trans Fats

Banning foods is not considered the best practice when trying to encourage kids to have a healthy relationship with food, but because refined sugar and trans fats have been found to be very dangerous to health, both are best to be avoided at all costs.

Create Fun Physical Activities

Diet is 60% to 70% of what keeps you healthy, but the remaining percentage is exercise. Exercise does not have to be overly planned or take place for long sessions. Simply start by playing catch or investing in a table tennis set. This can go a long way to showing children that exercise can be fun and this can then ignite the spark for physical exercise.

Overweight children may also get teased at school for their weight. Therefore, it is important to actively encourage your child to do sports at home if they are refusing to take part in school sports.

Better Together

Whatever strategies or prevention methods are used to tackle childhood obesity, it has been proven that they are most effective when the whole family is doing it and is involved. Children who are overweight or obese need extra guidance from their parents or caregivers to learn how to make healthier lifestyle choices, especially because children are ultimately learning from adults around them.

A proactive plan for children should always include any influential adults in a child’s life coming on board and joining in. It is vital that these new changes start at home to ensure this new way of living and eating is maintained.

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