Giving Kids a Healthy Start: How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

In the last 30 years, statistics show that obesity rates among children in Canada have almost tripled. According to the Mayo Clinic, the main contributors to childhood obesity are related to lifestyle issues. This includes a daily practice of minimal activity and too many calories from food and drinks. However, genetic and hormonal factors can play a role as well.

In addition to diet and exercise, there are other psychological and socioeconomic factors that put children at risk of obesity. For example, family stress or bullying can lead kids to overeat and watch television as a coping mechanism. Some children living in low-income neighbourhoods lack access to a safe place to play and exercise. If their family has limited resources, they may rely on inexpensive foods that have little nutritional value.

Childhood obesity is a real problem that increases the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Obese children are also likely to face weight challenges and health risks as adults.

If your child is obese or at risk of being obese, it’s important to increase the amount of activity in their daily lives. Sitting too much is unhealthy for everyone — it’s been labelled the silent killer for a reason.

In Children First Canada’s Raising Canada 2020 report, physical inactivity is listed among the top 10 threats to childhood. As children face disruptions to their schooling and daily routines due to COVID-19 restrictions, they need the support of parents and caregivers to keep moving — whether they are stuck indoors or are free to play outside.

Here are some ways to help kids stay healthy and active throughout the year.

Be a Good Example

If your lifestyle has contributed to your own weight challenges, this could affect the health of your children as well. This is because of environmental factors—children will choose the same foods as you and mirror your lifestyle habits. It’s important to encourage a healthy, balanced diet and to avoid sedentary routines. Your children are going to copy what you are doing in your free time.

Start building in time to be physically active in your child’s day — every day. Try something new with your child to get them excited about moving their body again. Even 30 to 60 minutes of activity can be a great start. This could be as simple as going for a walk or taking a bike ride.

Plan Ahead

During busy and stressful times, it’s easy to grab something to eat that is fast and convenient. That’s why it’s important to stock your pantry and fridge with healthy, nutritious snacks, like fruits, cheese, hummus, crudités, guacamole, air-popped corn and more.

Be intentional about removing all fast foods, crackers, cookies, chips, and sodas from your household. This will help to set the pace for a healthier path moving forward. You can also make mealtime fun by allowing your kids to help prepare healthy meals with you. At the start of the week, take time to plan your meals ahead to ensure you are eating well throughout the week — no matter how busy your schedule gets.

Reduce Screen Time

Screen time means time with tablets, TV, video games and smartphones. This all increases the potential for childhood obesity. Start sitting down for meals together at the dining table, rather than eating in front of the television.

According to an article from the Pediatrics Journal, the relationship between screen time and obesity has been closely studied. As much as 60% of the four-year incidence of overweight children aged 10 to 15 years old in the US was attributed to watching television. Active Healthy Kids Canada also reported that children aged three to five years old were spending two hours a day in front of the television.

That’s why it’s important to sit together at dinnertime as a family. Have conversations, talk about your day, and share stories as you share your daily meals. This will not only reduce your child’s weight gain, but it will also improve your relationship with each other.

It helps to have clear guidelines in your household on when your children can watch TV and when they should be doing something else, like homework, reading a book, playing outside or craftwork.

Childhood Obesity Is Preventable

No child should have to deal with the challenges and medical conditions that result from obesity at a young age. But it takes the support of loving adults in a child’s life — parents, teachers, pediatricians, and even government and business leaders — to make a difference.

If you would like to join a national movement for Canada’s children, please check out our website.