Raising Healthy Children

According to statistics the number of overweight children has doubled in the past 30 years. Setting aside the small percentage whose excess weight has a medical cause, the reason for extra weight is, simply put, consuming too many calories and too little activity.

For children, being overweight is physically, mentally and socially devastating. We all remember the relentless teasing fat kids got at school.

Kids who are obese are most likely to be obese as adults. And, as most of us know, the older we get, the harder it is to lose weight. Medical professionals agree the best way to fight childhood obesity is to prevent it, and families are the first line of defense.

As a parent, I know it is easier to get kids to eat sweet snacks than healthy vegetables. But if there are not any sweet snacks available, kids are more likely to eat something that is healthy for them than go too long without eating.

When the weight I had gained did not disappear after my first child was born, I realized, after a few months, it was not going to magically disappear without some effort on my part. I got rid of everything in the house that tasted really good and made me really fat. My husband still got his ice cream for dessert, he just had to go to the ice cream shop to get it.

It was hard to retrain my eating habits as an adult, but since I was trying, it made it easier to introduce better food choices to my children. A real benefit to losing weight was the energy I had to play with my kids.

Like many young couples with small children, we did not have extra money to eat in restaurants, but we did eat out a lot. We’d pack a picnic basket and go to the park with friends for a game of pick up softball or volleyball while the kids had fun on the playground equipment.

When children get older and have more independence it is harder to monitor every aspect of their life. Eating junk food is often part of going out with friends. One way of handling the situation is to redirect some of their free time.

When my husband came home one late afternoon and saw our son reclining on the couch watching TV, he had had enough. He gave our son a choice of participating in a sport or some type of martial arts class as long as it made him move and it was a regular on-going activity.

Our son chose swimming because he said he did not like to sweat and even joined the community center swim team. Evidently he enjoyed swimming hours a day as he continued swimming on teams all the way though college. It is not easy being parents and having to juggle jobs, family and unexpected challenges that have a way of showing up when we are least prepared to deal with it.

Nevertheless, you will find your whole family benefits when you make a commitment to get out of the house for regular active outings. Pack healthy food in a picnic basket to share while you are out. Make good eating and activity an enjoyable family experience.

Febe VanZanten, Former YMCA Program Director for Families and Children; Sports Coach. http://picnictoday.com

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