By Donna de Levante Raphael
Pride Parenting Columnist
Over the past twenty years, childhood obesity rates have doubled, today approximately 15 percent of Canada’s children ages six to twelve are obese. An additional 30 percent are overweight. With nearly fifty percent of our children facing the added silent health dangers that come with carrying that extra weight, including hyper tension, heart disease and Type II diabetes, it’s time we, as parents take notice. The good news is that childhood obesity is preventable – especially if we start now – and we are the key to prevention.
The first step on the road to prevention is recognizing the mistakes that most of us make that can lead to childhood obesity in our children and then rectify them. These mistakes include:
Thinking juice is a healthy alternative to soda.
“It’s the perfect example of a successful media campaign,” they have sold juice as a healthy alternative. But it’s not. It’s all sugar. There is a strong association between sweet drink consumption (including juice and sodas) and overweight preschool children and the conclusion is that reducing consumption of these drinks might be one strategy to manage the weight of preschool children. Instead, we need to encourage our children to drink healthy liquids like low fat milk and water.
Using food as a reward for good behaviour or a job well done.
Too often parents “use food as a reward”. They use it to celebrate successes. They use it to comfort ouchies. They use it to comfort emotional trauma. It’s an immediate positive stroke, so it has a very strong impact on behaviour. Our kids then spend the rest of their lives trying to fight that conditioned response. Parents create the connection. None of those emotions has anything to do with physical hunger. Instead we use food to soothe emotional hunger. Instead, we need to reward and comfort our children with words and hugs, not food.
Making the dinner table a battleground and insisting that children finish everything on their plate.
We’ve all heard it from our parents, “Finish your vegetables. Children are starving in…” But the truth of the matter is that forcing our children to finish everything on their plate doesn’t help the starving children, it only hurts our kids and our efforts to control the situation. One of the things we see is that our children who have problems with obesity have lost their internal cue to tell them that they are full. They are forced to continue to eat after they feel full. Instead we need to make sure we’re serving the appropriate portions sizes and allow our children to stop eating once they’ve had enough.
Failing to recognize the detrimental effect our modern world has on our health.
Sure, genetics do influence our children’s susceptibility to being overweight or obese, but our environment plays a huge role, too. What happened after 1980? Our genetic makeup hasn’t changed, but obesity rates have skyrocketed. Health professionals place the blame squarely on our society. They point to our fascination with television, video and computer screens; our penchant for larger portion sizes; and our increasing lack of physical activity. Instead of following society’s lead, we need to limit tube time to the recommended two hours per day and model healthy living habits. Children usually mimic their parent’s exercise and eating patterns. That is why parents establishing healthy eating habits, such as eating smaller portions, keeping sweets and snack foods to a minimum, eating a good breakfast and eating whole foods – especially fruits and vegetables – versus packaged or fast foods is so important. Our best defense against increasing body mass and high cholesterol is exercise.
Trusting our eyes.
You can’t visibly see overweight kids all the time. Some kids at risk for being overweight don’t have rolls of fat. We need to pay close attention to where these kids plot out on the BMI (Body Mass Index) graphs. Even if kids appear to be overweight to others, we, as parents, don’t often see it. Weight gain is hard for parents to see and acknowledge because it reflects a parenting quality that’s hard for us. Instead of feeling guilty, we parents need to identify our bad habits and change them for our good and the good of the whole family.
Donna de Levante Raphael is a former writer and publisher of the parenting magazine I-Parent, and women’s magazine Cayman Woman. She’s currently working on editing a new parenting media site and releasing a parenting book. To contact Donna de Levante Raphael: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more parenting information visit Village Parent Facebook page. “Like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/VillageParent.