Alarming statistics show that childhood obesity contributes to diabetes, hyperglycemia, and high blood pressure. The popular notion that overweight children will “outgrow” their condition is not realistic. Childhood obesity is one of the most prevalent nutrition problems among children, exceeding iron deficiency anemia, the previous leader. Twenty-five percent of American children are now obese; this is not a game to play with a child’s health.
Poor food choices are often to blame for obesity. Flirting with excessive snacking, frequent romps to fast-food restaurants, and repetitive “just-this-once” high-fat food choices all contribute to childhood obesity. Quick-grab snacks among kids include chips, cookies, soda, candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries. A recent survey of grade-school children showed that only about 25 percent had eaten five servings of fruits and vegetables during any given day.
What defines obesity? One indicator is called the Healthy Weight Range for Teenagers, with body mass index ranges for boys and girls. To figure your own body mass index, multiply your weight in pounds times 705, and divide that number by your height in inches squared. Anyone with a body mass index over 30 is considered obese.
Modifying food choices and applying dietary guidelines can improve weight control. Dietary guidelines recommend less than 30 percent of calories come from fat. Each gram of fat you consume has 9 calories, so if you’re consuming a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, you should consume less than 65 grams of fat. Food labels are useful in keeping track of your fat consumption.
The Vegetarian Food Pyramid is another helpful aid in modifying a high-fat diet. The pyramid encourages appropriate-sized servings of fruits and vegetables that are naturally low in fat, and nonfat dairy choices for those over the age of 2. These simple modifications can help children decrease their chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other life-threatening problems now and in later years.
How can a child be encouraged to make healthier food choices? Make mealtime a pleasant, happy experience. Prepare food to be appealing and attractive using healthful methods. Parents play an active role in modifying their children’s diet. Purchase nutritious food, choosing a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and aromas to encourage a child to experiment. Sometimes it takes 15 or 20 exposures to a food before a child will accept it. Engage children in assisting mom or dad in the preparation process to increase familiarity with a new food.
It’s time to focus on the widespread problem of childhood obesity. Helping children make healthful lifelong eating choices will result in long vigorous, productive lives. Perhaps these child-friendly recipes will help. When you make the effort to increase the variety of foods your child will eat, and serve them in age-appropriate serving sizes, your child will avoid obesity now and in the future.