September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

by Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT
Mille Lacs Health System

As our kids head back to school, it’s a good time think about child nutrition. The obesity epidemic in our county affects 1 in 6 children, according to the CDC. Obesity in children is of great concern because it can have many serious medical consequences; children wouldn’t normally experience many of these until adulthood. This compromises their quality of life before they ever really get a chance at life.

Despite the fact that obesity is such a concern, it’s important that the focus of making change is not about weight loss. Sounds crazy, I know, but kids are still growing and it’s not the time for calorie restriction in most cases, and it’s certainly not the time to instill a negative body image through dieting or anxiety through destructive messages or behavior demands.

So, how do we help our kids?  Let’s start with the grocery store. Parents – you’re in charge. Whatever you buy gets brought home; whatever gets brought home gets eaten. Foods and snacks with sugar in them offer no nutritional value for growing kids or cognitive function in school. Encourage your children to help you pick vegetables and fruits in the produce section. The more involved they are, the more ownership they will take and the more likely they will eat fruits and vegetables. Encourage food diversity by letting each child pick one thing in the store that he/she has never tried before. Then show them how to find a recipe to know what to do with the new food.

Next, think about eating patterns at home. Do you allow eating anywhere in the house at any time?  Eating only at the table and at regular times each day increases eating awareness and helps prevent overeating. Do you have family meals? Eating as a family helps everyone eat better. Families are busy so the exact time of the meal and the types of food may vary from day to day but what’s important is that you’re all together as much as possible.

Lastly, get moving! It doesn’t matter what the activity is, just get your kids involved in activities that they enjoy and that use their bodies. Pick individual or team sports, or something less formal such as walking, biking, or gardening. Do things together as a family to help encourage everyone to be healthier. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to limit screen time that encourages endless hours of sitting.

All the things I’ve described can be done to improve health and lead your child out of obesity without ever stressing weight loss. You can set health goals as a family, and make it a team effort that you are all going to improve your quality of life.

For more information or assistance with your child’s nutrition needs, contact your health care provider or dietitian.