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How to Prevent Child Obesity and Help Your Child Stay Healthy

How to Prevent Child Obesity and Help Your Child Stay Healthy

Childhood obesity is an issue of major significance in developed and developing countries, owing mostly (but not entirely) to the ready availability of unhealthy foods. Although no parent intentionally wants to make their children overweight or obese, studies have confirmed that one in five American children are clinically obese as early on as primary school.[1]

Apart from the fact that child obesity increases the chances of being overweight during teenage years and adulthood, it has also been linked to social problems and a plethora of diseases. As parents, a proactive approach must be employed to deter the early onset of obesity in our children.

Here’s the good news, though, obesity can be avoided and if your child is already obese, it can be corrected.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the factors that dispose children to obesity, its health implications and how to identify obesity. I’ll also be discussing practical steps that will help you prevent or correct obesity in your kids, so be sure to stick around and finish the article!

How to know if your child is overweight or obese?

Figuring out whether or not your child is overweight isn’t always an easy task mainly because kids grow at different rates and the amount of body fat changes with age. According to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice, an astounding 80% of parents claim that their children had normal weight when they were actually obese.[2]

A reliable way of telling if your child is actually overweight or obese is by calculating their individual body mass index (BMI). BMI measures the body weight in relation to height. BMI calculators utilize a formula that generates a score which is used to classify the owner into obese, overweight, normal weight or underweight.

The BMI for children and teenagers is categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using a metric called percentile. Below are the different BMI percentile ranges and what it means.

  • 5th to 84th percentile: healthy weight
  • 85th to 94th percentile: overweight
  • 95th to 99.99th percentile: obese

Although the usefulness of BMI in determining child obesity has been well established, quite a number of parents still fail in using this approach to identify obesity in their children. If you’re in that category, here are a few signs that will help you to suspect a weight problem in your kids:

  • When they look physically bigger than the other kids in their class
  • When they wear clothes that are too large for their age
  • When they eat the same quantity (or higher) of food as adults
  • When they get easily exhausted from physical exercise
  • When they detest balanced diets but crave junk foods
  • When they enjoy watching TV for over three hours per day
  • When they are always hungry

If you observe any of these features in your child, then taking him or her to your local pediatrician for examination would be a wise course of action.

What causes childhood obesity

Childhood obesity can be caused by a number of factors including lifestyle, psychological issues and family history. However, the major causes of obesity can be narrowed down to just two issues – eating too much and not exercising enough.

Below are more specific causes of childhood obesity.

1. Genetic potential

The phrase “like father, like son” and “like mother, like daughter” is certainly not a myth when it comes to body weight. There’s a strong genetic factor in obesity, therefore, children whose parents are obese are more likely to have weight problems than children whose parents are lean.[3]

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That said, obesity is not totally predetermined. Although genes play an important role, the things you eat (or don’t eat) play a more important role in determining which genes get expressed, including the gene responsible for obesity.

2. Junk-food addiction

The ready availability of ultra-processed (junk) foods has played no small role in increasing the incidence of obesity – especially in children. These high-fat, sugar-sweetened junk foods are designed to last long and taste so good that it’ll be almost impossible to resist.

Unfortunately, study after study has exposed this as a major cause of food addiction in both children and adults.[4] Junk foods stimulate the brain’s reward centers, resulting in an insatiable craving for more.[5] And once your kid gets addicted to junk foods, obesity is almost inevitable.

3. Insulin resistance

Insulin is an important hormone that controls energy storage. In simple terms, it is responsible for telling fat cells to store more fat and that, of course, results in weight gain. When kids eat junk foods, the excessive caloric content encourages insulin resistance by increasing insulin levels in the body and this results in more energy being stored as fat.[6]

While different research studies on the effect of insulin on childhood obesity come up with controversial results, several studies have revealed a consistent correlation between high level of insulin and development of obesity.[7] To deal with the insulin problem, increase fiber intake in your child’s diet and reduce refined sugars.[8]

4. Inadequate exercising

The role of proper exercising in maintaining a healthy weight is indispensable because physical exercise helps to burn calories, which results in fat loss.[9] Unfortunately many kids don’t get enough daily physical exercise and that results in the development of weight problems.

Uncontrolled access to TV and video games also play a huge role in reducing the extent of physical exercise that kids have access to. If this situation is left uncontrolled, it will greatly increase the chances of your child becoming overweight or obese.

The serious effect of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity tends to have very serious implications on the health and social life of kids. Here are a few of them:

1. Increased risk of type-2 diabetes

Children who are overweight or obese have a higher chance of developing type-2 diabetes.[10] Type-2 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to properly metabolize glucose and it can lead to several other problems such as nerve damage, kidney dysfunction and eye disease.

2. Increased risk of heart disease

High levels of bad cholesterol and increased blood pressure are common complications that accompany obesity in children. Unfortunately, these conditions astronomically increase the risk of developing heart disease in the future. Once heart disease sets in, it can lead to heart attack or stroke.

3. Increased chances of getting asthma

Asthma occurs when the lung’s airways become inflamed and this condition has been heavily linked to obesity. Although the reason for this relationship is still unclear, studies have shown that obesity can in fact increase the risk of becoming asthmatic.[11]

4. Development of joint pain

Joint pain is another common problem that overweight kids tend to battle with. The reason for this is rather simple – the bones can only carry so much weight before they get “tired.” However, joint pain tends to diminish as your kid begins to lose weight.

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5. Sleeping disorders

Obese kids also tend to suffer from various sleeping disorders such as snoring and apnea (ceasing breath during sleep). These are usually the direct result of the excessive weight around the neck, which tends to block the airways during sleep.

6. Social problems

Children who are obese tend to be victims of bullying in school and this can result in depression, reduced self-esteem and social isolation. Unfortunately, if this is unchecked, it can remain till adulthood or even lead to suicide.

What to do if your child is obese

Since you’re still reading this, then chances are that you have an overweight or obese child. If this is the case, there’s no need to panic – it can certainly be corrected.

Since kids are still so young and are already used to an unhealthy lifestyle, helping them to undergo a lifestyle change might not be so easy – so, brace yourself. Here are some proven steps you can take to transit your obese child back to healthfulness:

1. Start a healthy eating habit

This is the most important thing you can do to help your obese child because the major underlying problem behind obesity is unhealthy eating. Proper nutrition is key to weight loss,[12] so changing your child’s eating habits to a healthy one is absolutely critical and should be the very first thing in your checklist as you look to reverse obesity.

Since your kids will mostly eat what you buy and keep in the house, your child’s journey to fitness depends largely on you. You need to use this influence to control what they eat or don’t eat. For starters, get rid of highly processed foods from your home. These include sweets, soft drinks, chips and all other foods with high salt, fat or refined-sugar content.

Then you need to switch to clean eating – which simply means eating foods that are as natural or minimally processed as possible. Focus on fresh, whole foods instead of fast foods. Here some examples:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains e.g. whole wheat pasta, brown rice etc.
  • Lean proteins e.g. fish and chicken.
  • Low-fat dairy e.g. skim milk, Greek yoghurt etc.

However, for your clean eating plan to be successful, you’ll need to start cooking more. Cooking and eating together as a family doesn’t only come with health benefits, it also creates room for bonding.

Learn more tips about clean eating here: What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)

You should probably consult your dietician for help with meal planning though. There’s a good chance that as you switch to healthier eating, your obese child will start losing some weight.

2. Increase physical exercise

Physical exercise is just as important as healthy eating for effective weight loss to occur. However, for an eight-year old kid, enrolling in the gym next door won’t sound as interesting as plying hopscotch in the backyard. So if you want this to work, incorporate fun into whatever physical exercise you design for your child.

Furthermore, since the child is already overweight, he or she may have a hard time engaging in strenuous exercise for a long period. So as a rule of thumb, aim for at least one hour of physical exercise daily, which can be broken down into 5-10-minute exercises spread throughout the day.[13]

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You should also enroll your child for a sport that he/she is interested in and offer continuous support and encouragement especially when they don’t feel like continuing.

3. Encourage more family activities

You’d be surprised how interesting physical activities can be to kids when you join them in doing it. Regularly partaking in activities that the whole family enjoys can be a great way to get your child to become active and start out on the path to fitness.

The beautiful thing here is that whether you go hiking or swimming, you don’t just help your kid to drop a few pounds but you also give them an opportunity to learn from you – to see exactly the kind of things they should be doing. Just be sure to vary the activities from time to time, so that your child doesn’t get bored.

4. Reduce TV time

Although television can seem like a great way to keep kids occupied while you focus on other tasks, various research studies have shown that watching TV, playing video games or using smartphones excessively can result in weight gain for kids.

There are two reasons why this happens – first, more screen time means less time for physical activities which burn fewer calories; secondly, more TV time means more snacking on sugary or unhealthy foods and the intake of more empty calories results in weight gain, which worsens obesity.[14]

So, if your child must watch TV or play video games, it shouldn’t take more than an hour per day.

How to help your child stay healthy (and prevent obesity)

Prevention is better than cure. Whether you’re trying to keep your healthy-weighted kids from becoming overweight or you want to keep your once-obese child at normal weight for good, here are a few tips that can help:

1. Take out the bad stuff and make healthy foods accessible

The first step to take in ensuring that your kids eat healthy is to clean out your pantry and refrigerator.

Get rid of all sugary and overly processed foods and drinks. Replace them with healthier alternatives like fruits and veggies and ensure the healthy foods are easy to access.

2. Make their favorite dishes healthier

Foods don’t have to taste horrible to be healthy. Kids love things that taste nice and you can certainly make their favorite meals like pasta, tacos and pizza healthier by using the right ingredients. You can use extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter, top pizza with broccoli and green peppers and sneak veggies into sauces.

3. Avoid serving large portions

Even when you’re serving healthy meals to your kids, the portion sizes still matter. Start by serving small portions and let your child do the asking if he/she is not satisfied.

You should also avoid making your child clean out the plate – especially after asking for more as this may lead to excessive calorie consumption that can result in weight gain.

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4. Pack a lunch

Planning weekly school lunches for your child isn’t only going to save you a lot of money, it will also ensure that your child is eating healthy. Preparing lunch helps to control what goes into their tummy when you’re not with them and this will also help them get used to healthy eating.

Some healthy lunch ideas here for your kids: 25 Tasty and Healthy Kids’ Lunch Ideas for Home or School

5. Encourage kids to sleep more

While sleep may seem like an unproductive activity, it is one of the most important things your child needs to do sufficiently to avoid being overweight.[15] Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can result in excessive weight gain in children.[16]

6. Keep them busy

Getting kids to do house chores regularly is another way of helping them to stay healthy. Activities such as lawn mowing, house cleaning and bed making all help kids to exercise without realizing it.

7. Set a good example

Okay, this is probably the most important thing you can do to help your kids – setting the right example. If you want your kids to eat healthy, then do it first – before their eyes! Want them to be physically active? Then exercise more.

Kids tend to learn a great deal from their parents, even more than they do from television. When you practice what you preach to your kids, they’ll soon realize you’re not trying to be mean – it’s just the way things ought to be.

Final note

Although childhood obesity is a major menace staring us in the face, it certainly can be prevented and corrected. All you need to do is to get your kids to stop doing the wrong stuff and to start doing the right things.

For starters, you need to get your kids to break up with unhealthy eating habits and place them on a healthier diet. The transition may not progress as quickly as you’d like, so you may want to take things slow.

Then you need to find fun ways of getting them active, so that they can burn fat and maintain a better physical health. Just be sure to keep a tab on your children’s weight as they grow up and check their BMI regularly to ensure that they’re within the healthy weight range.

Remember this though, if you don’t make a move, nothing will get moved. So, start somewhere, anywhere! And start today! If you apply all the tips shared in this article, a few months from now, you’ll start seeing positive changes in your obese child.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Obesity Facts
[2] British Journal of General Practice: Child obesity cut-offs as derived from parental perceptions: cross-sectional questionnaire
[3] NCBI: The response to long-term overfeeding in identical twins.
[4] NCBI: Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake
[5] Science Direct: Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell
[6] NCBI: Dietary patterns, insulin resistance, and prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in women.
[7] NCBI: A causal role for hyperinsulinemia in obesity.
[8] NCBI: Impact of Dietary Fiber Consumption on Insulin Resistance and the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.
[9] HuffPost: Exercise Vs. Diet: The Truth About Weight Loss
[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tips for Parents – Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight
[11] Asthma Research & Practice: Asthma and obesity: mechanisms and clinical implications
[12] Premium Health Writer: Why Nutrition is Important in Your Weight Loss Program
[13] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How much physical activity do children need?
[14] Harvard School of Public Health: Television Watching and “Sit Time”
[15] Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
[16] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Helping Your Child Who is Overweight

More by this author

Richard Adefioye

Richard has a unique passion for healthy living and productivity.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

The importance of effective goal setting cannot be overstated on our personal journeys towards success. This is why there are countless articles out there on how to set your own SMART goals and even why it’s a skill commonly taught to a small degree in classrooms.

Learning the importance of goal setting and the benefits of sticking to those goals can be the defining factor determining whether we truly embrace the importance of goal setting. The more willing we are to embrace this method, the more likely we become to reach our personal definitions of personal and professional success.

Thus, today’s article is going to walk you through some of the benefits you’ll see from learning to set goals for yourself and answer the question, “why is goal setting important”.

1. Goals Guide and Align Our Focus

It’s hard to get to where you want to be in life if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Some people believe avoiding goals means living a more care-free life. How many times have you heard the phrase “If I have no expectations, then I can’t be disappointed”?

But is that really what our lives have come to? Living just to avoid disappointment? It doesn’t seem like an overly optimistic view in my opinion. And since you’re reading this article, I’m willing to bet that you agree with me.

Without goals, we lack a degree of direction and focus. Sure you may be able to avoid disappointment, but just avoiding disappointment doesn’t mean you are necessarily happy.

Without goals, we will pointlessly waste our time, energy, and efforts. Listen to anybody who is the top of their field and they’ll tell you something like this,

“Yes talent is important, but often your success depends much more on what you decide to do with that talent.”

And what you will do with your talent largely depends on your focus.

Your goals give you direction. Your goals give you something to shoot for. This direction and target you create in your mind will help you to progress towards your main life goals rather than simply wander around aimlessly. These goals will help you align your actions and behaviors as you continue moving forward.

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So, why is goal setting important? Because it gives you direction, alignment, and purpose!

2. Goals Help You Avoid ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

Basically, shiny object syndrome is always being in pursuit of the next big thing, constantly switching your goals based on what you feel is most fun and interesting at the given moment, but never actually giving yourself time to accomplish any of those goals.

You don’t get anywhere because you continually change the direction you are heading in. This is one of the consequences that may result if you decide to live a life without goals.

Your goals can sometimes help you to create mental barriers, or blinders, that help you to remain focused on what you think is important and avoid the things that are second priority. When you outline goals for yourself, you are better able to avoid things that distract you from achieving and accomplishing those goals.

Setting goals helps you to step around the other shiny objects because you’ve taken the time to make some mental notes that remind you what it is that you want from your life. Your goals act as subconscious deterrents to anything less than your main priorities. This is what helps you to reach your personal definition of success.

So, why is goal setting important? Because not only do goals tell you what you want from life, but they also help you realize what you need to give up and avoid to achieve that.

3. Goals Turn Our Largest Goals into Manageable Steps

A lot of us have big hopes and dreams. It’s one of the things that make our lives exciting!

But a lot of us never take the time to figure out how we can effectively get from point A to point B. So, sadly, we never fully achieve those goals. We look at our dreams and convince ourselves that only a select few people ever achieve them, so we write ourselves off as people not meant to reach that level of success. Looking at the end product of a goal can be intimidating, daunting, and discourage us from even pursuing them.

Thankfully, goal setting helps us break large intimidating goals into smaller ones. These small steps and more achievable goals will help us to build momentum and will encourage us to keep working towards the next phase of our goal. The form the foundation from which we can begin building the life that we truly hope to have for ourselves, our families, and may even for our communities depending on how big your goals are!

Whenever I get talking about this aspect of goal setting, I can’t help but think about the mountain climbing analogy, and that the easiest way to climb a mountain is simply step by step.

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So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting gives you a list of manageable steps that you can take in order to take your life from where it is now to where you want it to go both effectively and efficiently.

4. Goals Encourage You to Take Action

This builds on the last benefit of goal setting. Not only does effective goal setting help you break down your larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones, but it also encourages you to actually begin taking action on those goals. After all, a plan is completely worthless if you aren’t willing to invest the effort required to execute it.

Setting your goals and putting your plan in place motivates you to begin taking action towards achieving them. These goals give you something to plan and work towards. Essentially, they help propel you forward.

What I like to do is write out and place my goals somewhere that I’ll regularly see them. This constantly serves as a reminder of my top priorities. It allows me to focus on taking small progressive actions towards achieving these goals daily.

This ensures that I don’t fall into the trap of setting a goal, beginning to work towards it for a while, but then having my motivation fade resulting in me falling off track. This is exactly what many people see happen when it comes to their “New Year’s Resolutions.”

If you want to learn about some of the golden rules for goal setting that will help you set and achieve your goals successfully check out this article: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

So, why is goal setting important? Because goal setting actually motivates you to stop thinking about your goals and actually get out there and achieve them!

5. Goal Setting Helps You Continually Improve

This is something that a lot of personal development and self-improvement writers talk about, continual improvement. For those of you who are not aware of the term, continual improvement is exactly what it sounds like — taking small steps towards improvement as frequently as you can to develop into the person you want to become.

What’s the point in improving a little bit each day if you’re not improving in the areas that you want to improve in after all?

The goals that you define for yourself will inevitably shape you into the person who you want to become. They’ll shape your character. Your goals can help you measure your progress as you strive for this type of development.

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Essentially, having goals helps you determine where you started, where you are now, and how much further you need to go. In this manner, your goal setting can serve as milestones and benchmarks that help you determine how well you’re progressing towards your most important goals!

So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting helps you make improvements each day that will slowly transition you into the person you want to become.

6. Goal Setting Keeps You Accountable

Not only does setting goals help you measure your progress, but it also is a means through which you can keep yourself accountable. Too many goals fail because they lack this crucial aspect of outlining accountability.

For example, if I have the goal to do 50 push-ups, that’s great. Most people would support that goal. However, this goal lacks accountability. When do I want to accomplish this goal by and what steps do I take to get there? These are important questions that the original goal leaves unanswered.

A much more descriptive and specific goal could be to do 50 push-ups within the next 3 months by starting at 5 push-ups, and then adding 5 each week. This goal outlines the deadline as well as the steps I’m going to take to achieve it. This plan will keep me accountable because if I fail to retain my progression schedule, I will know that I’m not going to achieve the goal on time.

Additionally, it can serve as a marker helping to signify when something is impeding my progress that I may not have initially accounted for. This tells me that I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing and figure out what adjustments I can make to facilitate my success.

So, why is goal setting important? Setting goals is key to keeping ourselves accountable and on-track towards accomplishing our goals according to the schedules and deadlines we set for ourselves.

7. Goals Make You Feel Good

Trust me, the progress you feel as you set and achieve goals can become super motivating and super addicting (in a good way)! The dopamine release you get from achieving your goals is like a little reward for our brains that continually motivates us to try and hit that next goal!

Having some clearly defined goals will help you to feel better about yourself and your life in general, especially when you stick to those goals, actively work towards achieving them, and end up accomplishing and surpassing your initial expectations. I’m not the oldest book on the shelf myself, but I can attest that there are not many feelings quite like the one you experience when you truly get on a roll!

Additionally, our goals give us an endpoint to shoot for. Rather than progress for progress’s sake, you can actually see where you’re heading! That’s so much more rewarding. Think about a long car trip as a kid. You ask “if you’re there yet?” ever 20 minutes. It seems like the drive drags on forever.

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If you don’t know where you’re going, you risk the journey becoming tedious. It doesn’t tend to be much fun wandering around aimlessly. Goals make us feel good about where we’re directing ourselves.

So, why is goal setting important? Because setting goals and accomplishing them plain and simply make us feel better about ourselves and our lives!

8. Goals Help You Live Your Best Life

I’ve talked a lot in this article about how goal setting helps us progress towards our top priorities and live the way we truly want to live. So I think it’s fit to end the article with this goal because, in the end, I feel it’s the most important one.

Setting your goals and clearly defining what they mean to you will help you live a life that is tailored to your beliefs and values. Your life will become directed towards the things that you most want to achieve.

Life is a tricky game and only in very rare circumstances are things handed to us on a silver platter. Often it takes a great degree of work, planning, and effortful execution of both.

There is no point clinging on to things in your life if they don’t bring you happiness or help you accomplish something that, in some way, aligns with your goals.

Simply put, setting goals helps us live a life that allows us to pursue the challenges and rewards that we truly want to achieve.

So, why is goal setting important? Because our time is always limited, and setting clearly defined goals can help ensure that you make the most of your life and live to the fullest!

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the benefits of goal setting that outline why it truly is so important. If you take a moment or two, I bet that you can even think of a few more benefits yourself that you could add to this list.

If I could leave you with something, it would be this:

Goal setting has the potential to take us to some amazing places in life because we all have talent and ambitions. To achieve your biggest dreams, you need to be willing to sit down and create a life design uniquely tailored to you that will help you achieve them!

More Tips About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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