Helping Your Kids Eat Healthier, Combat Pediatric Obesity During a Pandemic
As we reach the one-year anniversary of our lives being significantly disrupted by COVID-19, it’s important to recognize the significant impact pandemic-related lifestyle changes have had on our children.
From stay-at-home orders and school closings to, for many, limited access to nutritious food and regular exercise, the pandemic has likely exacerbated another epidemic that our country’s kids have already been dealing with for several years: childhood obesity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in five of all kids and teens in the U.S. are obese, and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. While it’s been well-documented that the early onset of obesity can put children at greater risk of developing conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, it is now also considered a risk factor for COVID-19 disease severity.
In other words, children and teens who are overweight and who have contracted the coronavirus have an increased likelihood of experiencing more severe symptoms.
Fortunately, the team here at Rainbow Pediatrics believes it’s never too late for children (and their parents) to learn healthier and more thoughtful lifestyle habits that can help them combat these risks and live healthier, more active lives.
Healthy Eating Tips
We at Rainbow Pediatrics understand what both children and parents have gone through over the last year as they struggled to grasp a sense of normalcy within their bubbles. Few people in the world have been exempt from such changes, and most all of us have fallen off the wagon of routine when it comes to healthful habits.
This includes a lot of parents who are both loving and well-meaning. If you’re part of this group, know that it’s okay. We’ve strived to do our best through individual levels of change and stress. However, few have emerged from the past year without some regrets.
That said, we can all still help our children eat healthier, even if they’ve developed some undesirable eating habits over the last few months. Here are some tips for making these changes:
Lead by Example
This one’s pretty simple. Our kids – even our teenagers, believe it or not – are greatly influenced by what their parents do, and our eating habits are no exception. If they see their parents eating and trying healthful foods and snacks, they’re more likely to establish such habits themselves.
The pandemic has caused many of us to break routines when it comes to meal and snack times. We recommend you strive to redevelop these eating schedules, especially when it comes to your kids. Starting with breakfast, try to schedule meals at or around the same time each day, with regular snack times in between.
Kids are going to need their snacks. There’s no way around it. But as adults, it’s up to us to offer them healthier snack options. Instead of cheesy crackers and “snack packs,” opt for fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole-grain crackers, and so on. Also, be cautious about over-snacking, which can ruin a child’s appetite before mealtime. Consider between-meal beverages, as well, which should be water. Sweet drinks are not recommended due to empty calories as well as dental concerns from the sugar exposure.
Kids of all ages can be notoriously stubborn when they feel like they lack control over personal decision-making. So, offer them the choice they crave when it comes to meals and snacks – even if both options lean toward the healthier side of things. Also, be sure to praise your kids when they make healthy eating decisions.
Let Them Help
When kids help with the food selection at the grocery store and food prep and cooking at home, they’re more likely to try new foods and ingredients. By learning where food comes from and the work that goes into preparing meals and snacks, kids can develop a greater appreciation for variety.
Finally, regular sunshine, exercise and movement will not only keep their bodies at a healthy weight, it will improve their mood, their sleep and their focus. Make it a family affair. Go for walks or bike rides, do a yoga YouTube video or download a Zumba App on your phone, dance to music, do yard work. Just find an excuse to move and make it FUN!
If you have concerns about child obesity or how to help your children develop better eating habits, we’re here to help. We also have a Certified Culinary Medicine Specialist on staff that would love to take a detailed diet history and give you personal feedback and education on how to make your child’s diet optimal.
Just call the Rainbow Pediatrics office today at 910-486-5437 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.