Childhood obesity has become a topic of conversation and concern for more than a few years now. In the past, childhood was predictably a time of good health and optimal energy and activity. In recent years, this carefree time of life has taken a dangerous turn with sedentary lifestyles and risk of overweight and obesity. There are plenty of people talking about it…plenty of people feeling angst. But, little has really changed – and, we must change if we want a different result.
It’s important to look at what is now different from previous generations. How can we guard against some of the bad habits we’ve fallen into if we aren’t fully aware of what they are? With the information in this article I hope to educate parents and empower them to take control and create healthy lifestyles for their children today. Even if your child isn’t overweight or obese as a child, implementing these basic tips can keep them healthy into their adult years!
Implement These 4 Tips For The Well-being Of Your Child’s Mind and Body
- Walk…everywhere. We drive almost everywhere. In past generations, people walked wherever they needed to go. It’s important for us to rethink how we organize our daily lives. Can your kids walk to school? Could you organize a walking group and have adult volunteers escort the kids? Could your kids ride their bike to school? Could you organize a group for this? If school is within one or two miles, walking or biking is entirely possible and recommended. And, the benefit of using our bodies for transportation goes beyond burning calories. Research shows that kids who walk or bike to school do better on tests of memory and focus!
- Play outside. Outdoor play has declined 40% for kids since the 1970’s. Outdoor play is not only fun, it burns calories, helps kids learn physical skills, builds strength, enhances social skills, increases problem solving and critical thinking, helps kids gain a sense of independence, and produces the good brain chemicals kids need to be happy and to learn. Kick the kids outdoors after school for a half hour even if they whine about it. When they come back indoors later their brains and bodies will be better prepared to do homework more quickly and effectively.
- Bedrooms are for sleep, not entertainment. In a survey of 3,000 5th graders, half of the children said they had a TV, DVD player, video game or cell phone in their room (some had all!). 57% said they used these devices even after they were supposed to be asleep. Those who had access to electronic devices generally slept less, and shorter sleep duration is linked to obesity. Less sleep also impacts levels of thyroid and stress hormones, which in turn can adversely affect memory, immune system, heart and metabolism, and emotional health. Keep electronic devices in the common areas of your home such as family room or kitchen and reserve bedrooms for relaxation and sleeping.
- Limit screen time. More than 20 years ago, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, along with experts at the CDC and the National institutes of Health, concluded that a child’s weight increases with the number of hours he or she spends watching television each day. These days, we’ve got not only TVs, but computers, phones, i-This and i-Thats. There’s no shortage of screens in our homes! And, there’s no shortage of studies linking excessive screen use to a variety of health ailments, particularly weight gain, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, eye strain…and psychological damage. Excessive screen use will take away from not only exercise time, but from reading and maintaining meaningful relationships which develop social skills and foster emotional health. Limit total screen time to no more than 2 hours a day…preferably much less. This will force kids to get more creative and active. You will also experience more interactions as a family. You’ll need to be a strong leader – disallow whining and help kids discover the new things they can do with their free time.
I’ve only included four suggestions so as not to overwhelm parents. However, if you can implement all four (one at a time) over the next 4 – 6 months and sustain these good habits, your child’s life and health will be transformed. It’s not easy – I know – I did this with my own children and was viewed as a big meanie compared to their friend’s parents for a long time. Be strong and keep your eye on the prize. My children are now parents themselves and thank me for staying steadfast. They are better, healthier people for it and are teaching these good habits to their own children!
SAFbaby’s Health Expert Adviser Doreen Bolhuis
Doreen Bolhuis is the President/CEO of Gymco Inc., a multi-sport facility for children in its 31st year of operation in Grand Rapids, MI. Doreen is the creator of Gymtrix, an innovative DVD series to teach physical literacy for babies – 10 yrs. She is a co-founder and partner of Motion Evolution, a licensed national fitness and physical literacy program for children. Doreen’s passion is advocating healthy lifestyles and fighting obesity by empowering parents to create active kids from infancy.
Doreen holds a B.S. degree in Physical Education, Health and Recreation. She has over 35 years experience teaching locally, nationally and internationally and is currently an adjunct professor for Aquinas College in the department of Health and Physical Education. Doreen has appeared in local, national and international media (CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The N.Y. Times) as a guest expert in Physical Literacy. Doreen is a former elite level gymnastics coach and member of the Junior Olympic Committee for USA Gymnastics.