We’ve all heard parents and grandparents say, “Oh, it’s just baby fat” when talking about a plump child, but with rates of childhood obesity rising every year, it is not a concern to be dismissed. Read on for guidance from Elaine Cudnik, APRN, with Renown Children’s Hospital and her advice to help your child live healthy.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the behaviors of children and adolescents play a significant role in determining their body mass index. The usual advice is to have your child ”eat less and exercise more.“ The hard part is implementing a 24/7 plan for your child’s habits, including food intake, activity, entertainment time and sleep.
Here are some tips to help with healthy habits all day, supplied by Elaine Cudnik, APRN, Renown Children’s Hospital.
Water is the best drink for your child. It’s important for every cell and metabolic process in the body, especially temperature regulation and proper colon functioning. It’s true, thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Your child may not really be hungry when reaching for a snack. So you can ask them about the last time they had water. As a parent, you may already avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices and encourage water at snack and mealtimes. If your child avoids drinking water, try encouraging them by buying silly straws and fun cups for them to use, freeze fun shaped ice cubes, or even add fruit to their water or ice to make it “fancy.” And remember to be a role model for water consumption.
Set a regular bedtime and stick to it
We can all tell if a newborn or toddler hasn’t gotten their nap, but what about older children? Don’t dismiss the importance of consistent, quality sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with learning, behavior and attention problems, and even interferes with appetite-regulating hormones. It also increases a child’s risk of depression, diabetes, hypertension and accidents according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
The AASM recommends the following sleep guidelines for infants, children and teens:
- Age 4 months to 12 months old: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
- 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
- 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
- 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours
- 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found 57.8 percent of middle school students do not get enough sleep, while a whopping 72.7 percent of high school students are sleep deprived. They recommend parents set a bedtime to encourage a consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends), with children waking up and going to bed at the same time daily.
The CDC also provides an online calculator to assess a child’s risk of obesity, based on their gender, age and height.
Downplay the digital
TV and mobile device viewing by young children has been linked to poor nutrition and obesity. Marketers have become savvy and now tease your children with ads on social media channels and even sponsor social media influencers to place items in their messages. A recent Klear study showed influencer marketing grew nearly 200 percent in 2017, with food and beverages as the No. 3 industry for social influencer partnerships. (McDonalds and Coca Cola both employ influencers.) The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests creating a family media plan including:
- No TV viewing for children younger than 18 months
- From ages 2-5, up to 1 hour of high-quality programming, co-viewed with children.
- Limit non-educational media time to no more than two hours per day.
- No screens an hour before bedtime.
Eat together, screen-free
Eating less is the key determinant of weight loss for children. Home-cooked meals are healthier than restaurant and fast food meals, so they are preferred. Try expanding your child’s palate. Have they ever tried a ripe, juicy mango or kiwi in season? Take them to a farmer’s market, and let them pick fresh produce to serve at meals. Including them in the decision-making process lets them be a part of owning their own health. Also consider new ways of making vegetables fun, by using spiralized or unique shapes. Eating is not only about food, it’s also a time to talk and engage with your child without distractions. Ask your child, “What was the best part of your day?”
Take away the guilt
Small, positive changes matter. Obesity is a diagnosis with life-long health consequences. The systems in your household will surpass your child’s willpower. You can set your child up for success by not having sugary snacks, chips, soda or ice cream in the house. Make it a treat to have dessert, not a daily occurrence. Remember to be patient. Habits and taste buds don’t change overnight. Consistency and positive reinforcement is the key to the long-term health of your child.