Schools nationwide are revamping their lunch menus, celebrity chefs are going on reality TV and First Lady Michelle Obama has started a health initiative, all to combat the same thing — childhood obesity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 million American children are obese or overweight, setting them up for a lifetime of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Many school systems have made attempts to provide healthier school lunches, such as offering salad bars or fresh fruit.
Food and drink makers are also making efforts to solve the problem. Companies like Coca-Cola have removed regular soft drinks from schools, and recently, major beverage companies, together with the William J. Clinton Foundation and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, announced that they have successfully cut total calories from drinks delivered to schools by 88 percent over the last three years.
“From my experience, schools alone cannot stop children from becoming overweight or obese,” says registered dietitian Sylvia Klinger. “It is very important for parents to make an effort to encourage healthy eating habits at home and outside of the classroom.”
Klinger suggests these tips for parents who want their children to live healthy, active lives:
* Make healthy foods easy. We’re all familiar with the phrase “eat the rainbow.” To make it easy to get your family to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, chop bite-sized portions in advance, so you can take them out of the fridge and run. Sneak fruits into smoothies, and veggies into sauces, salsas or soups. Also, look for individually packaged whole-grain products, like 100 percent whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice.
* Create healthy eating habits. Always eat breakfast — children who eat breakfast not only weigh less, but also perform better in school. It is also important to schedule regular meal times. Try involving your children in the preparation of each meal. Avoid the clean plate system, which only promotes overeating. Also, don’t ban treats, which can encourage sneaking food or overeating when sweets are present.
* Get active. Exercise is important regardless of your child’s weight or age. If your child is overweight, focus on maintaining that weight while the child grows in height, which can be accomplished through exercise. No matter your child’s size, activities like team sports, swimming, hiking, cycling or just taking a family walk can help manage weight, increase energy and improve self-esteem.