The Weight is Over - Combat the Epidemic of Childhood Obesity
by Tony Sparber
With the incidence of childhood obesity tipping the scales at a staggering 20% (9 million children) in the United States, there are differing schools of thought about the steps that can be taken to put our children back on track towards optimal health. Weight loss has become big business today with products and experts pitching everything from pharmaceuticals, to use of herbal supplements and fad diets, all directed towards todays increasing overweight population.
Having spent the past 20 years helping children ages 7 through 18 to overcome obesity, health problems, weight loss difficulties and self-esteem issues, I understand, first-hand, how to help protect our future generations reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity.
As is the case with most issues, proper education, repetition, setting goals, fun as well as starting a healthy lifestyle at an early age often produces good habits and results in a higher chance of success. Since childhood obesity leads to dramatically higher levels of heart disease, increased cholesterol levels, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other health related issues, it is in our childrens best interest to get this raging epidemic under control.
Some of the key elements that must be integrated into the equation are the value of a proper balanced nutrition, consistent and fun exercise regimens, the importance of self-esteem as well as the many benefits derived from positive support from friends, relatives and loved ones. As is the same with adults, youngsters who truly believe in themselves and are goal-oriented will see results much more rapidly. However, children are usually much more impressionable and resilient to the rigors needed to turn obesity around. While there are incidences where obesity may be genetic, more often than not these simple steps will result in moving towards desired weight loss objectives.
Diet and nutrition: While the USDA food pyramid is not without its own unique controversy, it is, in fact, a very solid starting point for those looking to start turning around their battle with obesity. Maintaining a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, fiber and dairy into a balanced eating program low in saturated fat can only be healthful. Eating naturally and learning how to avoid chemicals and additives when possible will also benefit children and create a solid foundation for nutritionally sound eating program. The old adage, eat to live and not live to eat is probably some of the most valuable advice to be learned from youth. The recommend dietary intake on average is 1,600 calories per day for girls and 1,750 calories per day for boys --- this, in conjunction with 30% or less of these calories coming from fat, adequate protein, carbohydrates, calcium and iron for active children and young adults. It is also very effective for girls to consume approximately ½ the quantity of starchy foods as compared to boys.
Exercise and activity: While youngsters typically have a much faster metabolism than adults, it is easier in some ways to burn a higher level of body fat to achieve faster weight loss results. However, children are children and often do not have the high degree of will-power found in most adults. Finding fun ways to exercise is important and with a little creativity a usually mundane experience can be turned into part of a beneficial activity program. For example, walking to school instead of taking a bus whenever possible is a good place to start. More frequent walking of the dog is not bad either, not to mention taking out the garbage or household chores and yard work. Most towns have organized athletic programs including soccer, baseball, basketball, softball, racquetball, tennis, swimming, etc., where socializing can be used to increase exercise and develop friendships in a fun-filled environment. And, when alone, jumping rope is a terrific exercise.
During the warmer weather, try encouraging family activities such as hikes or nature walks. Try to find locations that have an incline for added physical benefit. Pack a nutritious picnic style lunch and enjoy the outdoors together. Terrific group exercise to engage in cardio and aerobic workouts are bicycling, jogging, Tae-Bo or Step classes. Keep in mind that finding friends to participate is a great way to add to the collective fun while relieving the boredom often associated with a single-person endeavor. Recommended individual exercises include assisted push-ups, regular push-ups, crunches, reverse crunches, leg raises, wall squats and knee raises. These will burn calories, build muscle tone and show rapid results when performed consistently in just a few easy minutes per day.
Always begin an exercise routine with some type of warm-up. There are various methods to warm-up and to get the blood flowing. The most popular would be to do 5 10 minutes at a moderate intensity on a treadmill or stationary bike. If cardio equipment is not available, then try jumping jacks, jogging in place or jogging on a track, or some type of step aerobics.
Water is very important for daily nutritional needs. The FDA believes that 8 glasses a day is sufficient for a daily intake --- but, that is a minimum amount. The more water consumed throughout the day, the better off. The body needs water to protect against dehydration. If exercising at a moderate intensity and sweating, there is a loss of water. That water needs to be replenished or the body will dehydrate. Signs of dehydration are dry mouth, cramping of the muscles, and fatigue. Advanced dehydration will show signs of dizziness and nausea.
When to eat, when to exercise and when to sleep: Early to bed, early to rise also has more benefit than readily meets the eye. Since the metabolic rate is much higher early in the day and slows as late afternoon approaches, heavy exercise (cardio) and aerobic activity should be done earlier in the day with walking and more static activity as the day winds down. Amazingly, this will maximize the weight loss effort and produce faster, more noticeable results. Limiting food intake after 7 pm is a good practice to undertake, since the calories consumed will be burned at a much slower rate than earlier in the day and will hinder weight loss. Heavy exercise late in the day will leave the youthful body feeling hungry and produce a craving to replace those calories that have recently been burned. Training the body to eat at similar times each day and avoiding unnecessary snacks will help regulate weight gain and result in weight loss. Drinking plenty of water and non-sweetened beverages including milk are good solid choices. Another little-known tip is replacing table sugar with honey. Honey is pure glucose in form and is digested and removed from the body much more rapidly than table sugar. This will help to hasten the weight loss experience and is a solid eating practice.
The facts are clear! Over the past two decades the number of children classified as obese has doubled. Clearly a sedentary lifestyle is not exclusive to adults alone in the United States and most snacks seem to come from high fat and hydrogenated oils. Wait! Before we throw out all of the soda, cake, cookies, candy, potato chips, ice cream, burgers and fries out of the window all together, parents might consider the following 20 weight loss rules for children to live by:
1. Consume an adequate amount of food to provide all the required nutrients
2. Drink plenty of pure water (Minimum 6-8 glasses per day)
3. Target slow, steady weight loss: 1-2 pounds per week
4. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily to get enough fiber
5. Exercise every day if possible
6. Eat healthy snacks to curb hunger so that children are not too hungry at mealtime. This will help to prevent overeating
7. Avoid extra fats and sugar as much as possible
8. Eat at regular times each day. Do not skip meals so that energy is maintained
9. Eat slowly
10. Do not eliminate your favorite foods
11. Get tempting junk foods out of the house
12. Ask family and friends to offer support
13. Do not be afraid to make special requests when dining out
14. Do not eat in response to emotions
15. If you over eat one day, eat less the next
16. Remember all foods can fit into a healthy diet
17. If you must have a rich dessert, share it with a friend
18. Do not use diet pills or try crazy fad diets! THEY DO NOT WORK!
19. Keep up-to-date on nutrition news
20. Try new food products. You might find one that you enjoy eating
The most accurate and effective method of keeping track of your daily caloric intake and dietary habits is to write it down in a journal. This will allow you to look back, analyze and compare your habits to that of a healthy, balanced nutrition program. Remember: It is more important to be aware of what types of foods children are eating and portion sizes than to attempt to maintain specialized fad diets. Most diets are unrealistic and promote deprivation rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle change and smart decision-making.
Moderation, realistic goals and creating healthy eating/exercise habits are key. With youngsters, it is not only the diet and exercise program that they follow, but also the road that takes them there that is pivotal. Emotional support, strict guidance and fundamental rules to live with and grow by are essential. Even having the facts at hand, making life-changing decisions are not easy tasks. However, children are amazing! Once they see the light and really want to make a change in their appearance, self-esteem and how peers and others perceive them, nothing is far from their reach.
Children today can do anything if they put their minds to it. It is our job as parents to help them get there. These pointers are only a starting place to teach healthy eating habits and weight maintenance, as we search for a solution to eradicate the obesity epidemic that threatens todays children. Try making some of these changes in your childrens eating regimen and activities today and help to ensure an entire generations future!
Tony Sparber is the Founder/Owner of New Image Camps.
Reprinted with permission by New Image Camps - 2004