Straight, No Chaser: Your Guide to Fighting Childhood Obesity (Works for Adults, Too!)

Would you start your child on a fad diet? Of course not. Combating obesity means consistently applying principles that bear fruit (and include fruits over time). So you have an overweight child and want to do better to protect his or her health. Today on Straight, No Chaser, we  discuss tips to promote better habits and health. You may want to keep this list. Of course it starts with you. Be careful! You may discover these tips work for you as well.

Things for the parents to do

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  • Understand that this process involves many individuals (e.g., you, your physicians, dieticians, psychologists – even your personal healthcare consultants). None of you should be expected to do this alone. Ask for help.
  • Appreciate that you are the message. Your words are not enough. You are your children’s role model. They will aspire to look and be like you. Protect your own health.
  • Don’t isolate your child. Get the entire family involved in developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.
  • Don’t mentally punish your child. If they are led to believe they did something wrong or disappointed you, they could adopt dangerous behavior to compensate or punish themselves. Be supportive and positive.

Healthier eating habits

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General conditions

  • Make healthy choices easy and unhealthy ones more difficult. Put nutritious foods where they are easy to see, and keep high-calorie foods out of sight. It takes multiple servings for anyone’s tastes to get used to new foods. Stick with it!
  • Figure out how to avoid fast food. When you do go, choose the healthier options, such as salads with low-fat dressing.
  • Plan special healthy meals and eat together as a family. Make it an adventure, and make it fun and rewarding.
  • Don’t use unhealthy foods as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert.
  • Don’t make your child clean his or her plate. This promotes overeating.
  • Learn to limit eating to specific meal and snack times. At other times, the kitchen is “closed.”
  • Avoid large portions. Start with small servings, and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.

Limit the bad

  • Avoid any fats that are solid at room temperature (e.g., butter and lard)
  • Avoid foods that are high in calories, sugar and salt (e.g., sugary drinks, candy, chips, cookies and French fries)
  • Avoid refined grains (white flour, rice and pasta)

Add the good

  • Introduce fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains (e.g., brown rice). Don’t worry. They’ll eat them if that’s the option you’re providing.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products or substitutes (e.g., soy beverages)
  • Offer your child water or low-fat milk instead of fruit juice
  • Serve lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, soy products and eggs

Control the snacking

  • Go with air-popped popcorn without butter
  • Gradually train your kids to like fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruit served plain or with low-fat yogurt
  • Gradually train your kids to like fresh vegetables like baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini or tomatoes
  • Snack on low-sugar, whole-grain cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk or a milk substitute fortified with calcium and vitamin D

Stay physically active

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Kids need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Several short 5-10 minute periods of activity throughout the day are as effective as one 60-minute session. If you are starting from scratch, start from where you are and build up to the 60 minutes target. It only works if you stay diligent.

General considerations:

  • Be the message! Show your child that physical activity is fun, and demonstrate how you enjoy it. Have family activities that include being physically active, such as a walk.
  • Encourage participation in organized sports or classes, such as basketball, dance or soccer.
  • If sports don’t work, other fun activities include dancing to music, playing tag, jumping rope or riding a bike.
  • Assign active chores such as making the beds, sweeping/raking or vacuuming.

Activities that kids choose to do on their own are often best. Try these – and play with your kids. You need to be active, too!

  • Catching and throwing
  • Climbing on a jungle gym or climbing wall
  • Dancing
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing hopscotch
  • Riding a bike
  • Shooting baskets

Cut back on inactive time spent watching TV or on the computer or hand-held device.

  • Limit screen time to no more than two hours per day.
  • Substitute these relatively inactive activities with stimulating ones such as acting out books or stories or doing a family art project.
  • When watching TV, get up and move during TV commercials. By all means, discourage “couch-potato” activity of snacking when sitting in front of the TV.

I know this is a lot, but your kids are worth it, as are you. These actions are habits, not just actions. Work over time to incorporate as many as possible into your family’s routine, and I promise you’ll see the difference.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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