Fighting childhood obesity at home

Written by darlena cunha
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Keeping children in the kitchen

Fighting childhood obesity at home
(Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Find a way to make exercise and fitness fun and playful, not work or a task. Aim for healthy patterns that include all foods in moderation. Don’t make certain foods absolute no-nos. Find a way to fit favourites in on an occasional basis.

— Dr. Mary Jones Verbovski, pediatric dietitian

More and more children are considered obese in the United Kingdom. While the government is working on programmes to stop this trend, experts stress that prevention starts at home. And the stakes are high as these children are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and poor self-esteem. "Parents and teachers need to empower children so that they can make healthy food choices," said Kim Beach, a child psychologist. "Children are bombarded by ads for unhealthy foods at a very early age, so it’s important that trusted adults provide them with enough information to make positive choices for their own health."

Simple shopping

Fighting childhood obesity at home
Buying local produce ensures the freshest vegetables. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The first step to a healthy home is to simplify your grocery list. Mary Jones Verbovski, a pediatric dietitian, said to avoid foods that include hydrogenated oils (saturated fat) and high fructose corn syrup. "Aim for fewer things that are just plain hard to pronounce in the ingredient list," she said. "The more preserved and shelf-friendly an item is, the more likely it is higher in sodium, fat and sugar -- three ingredients to moderate in your daily foods."

Verbovski recommends fresh dairy, meats and produce -- the brighter, the better. "Look toward naturally colourful foods," she said. "More nutrients, vitamins and minerals are naturally present there." Healthy eating starts at local grocers and farmers markets, says Matt Mallard, a personal trainer. "If your food can sit on a grocery store shelf unrefrigerated, it doesn’t belong in your body," he said.

Get your kids in the kitchen

Fighting childhood obesity at home
Cooking is a great time to educate your kids about the value of preparing your own meals. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Parents can become role models for their children by enjoying the process of cooking themselves and translating that to their kids. "When children grow up with a positive, loving environment around cooking and eating meals together, they're more likely to incorporate that into their own lives and families as they grow," Verbovski said.

Once the stress level in the kitchen is lower, invite your children in to help you with the simpler tasks. Beach said that's the key behind the Kids in the Kitchen program, which is used to teach children and their families about the importance of healthy eating. "It empowers youth to assume responsibility for their own health by making healthy choices about the food they eat," she said.

Inviting kids to participate in the kitchen also helps the parents, notes Verbovski, who recommends letting children choose the vegetables, stir the ingredients and read the recipe. "If your child helps with cooking and food preparation, you get an understanding of what they like and what they may be willing to try," she said.

Educate while having fun

It's important to impart nutritional facts to your children in a way that they'll remember it. Kids in the Kitchen uses a variety of food pyramid games, playing cards and simple mathematics, such as the calculation of how many jumping jacks it takes to burn off the calories in a doughnut, said Alee Gunderson, who is a volunteer.

Nancy Walsh, another volunteer, says keeping kids involved from start to finish helps them learn nutritional and exercise tips. "They put the pieces together and it all clicks," she said. "They’ll remember what they learned through play and carry it with them as they grow up."

The key is making it fun, while encouraging good discipline and moderation. "Find a way to make exercise and fitness fun and playful, not work or a chore," Verbovski said. "Aim for healthy patterns that include all foods in moderation. Don’t make certain foods absolute no-nos. Find a way to fit favourites in on an occasional basis."

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