Everyone wants their children to live happy and healthy lives. We do everything that we can to teach our kids how to take care of themselves into adulthood, and hopefully pass that knowledge on to their own children and grandchildren.
Research has found that there are new ways to combat childhood obesity. By arming ourselves with information, we can be sure to provide the next generation with the best possible tools to lead healthy lives well into old age.
Childhood Obesity: The Facts and Statistics
Around the world, the number of overweight children under the age of five (in the year 2010) was estimated to be over 42 million. Focusing specifically on American children:
- 18.5% of children are currently considered obese
- 13.9% of 2-5 year-olds are obese
- 18.4% of 6-11 year-olds are obese
- 20.6% of 12-19 year olds are obese
- 25.8% of Latino children are considered obese
- 22% of Black children are considered obese
These numbers have doubled, even tripled over the years since early studies were first released in the 1970’s and 80’s. Sadly, over the years the numbers have only continued to increase.
The Risks of Childhood Obesity
If childhood obesity persists, the next generation will face a number of health issues such as:
- Early signs of cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure
- Respiratory problems such as asthma
- Fatty liver disease
- Sleep disorders
- Impaired insulin sensitivity, and prediabetes
- Increased long-term risk of certain cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and other noncommunicable diseases
- Altered hormonal development and impaired reproductive health
- Psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, depression, and social isolation
These kinds of risks can be prevented by making changes aligned with a healthier lifestyle.
How to Prevent Childhood Obesity
One of the best ways to prevent childhood obesity is to begin with making diet changes. Consuming less processed foods, cooking more healthy meals at home, and reducing the amount of sugary sweets you and your family eat is a big step in the right direction.
New research has also found that another change making a big difference in reducing the risk of childhood obesity is reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices.
The calories in these kinds of sugary drinks provide very little nutritional value, and do not support feelings of fullness the same way that solid foods do. They are also consumed quickly, and therefore an easy way to greatly increase the number of calories that a child would normally consume in a day.
The next time you’re grocery shopping, pick up a small bottle of orange juice or other pre-made smoothie drink. Check the sugar content on the nutrition label, and be sure to note how many servings are in one bottle. This can be tricky, as the label might say the drink contains 20 grams of sugar but that will be ‘per serving’ and there will actually be two or three servings in the entire bottle.
As an example, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar.
A 15-ounce bottle of Tropicana Orange Juice contains 42 grams of sugar.
You may think that juice is a better choice, right? In reality, your body can’t tell the difference between the processed sugar in soda and the fructose sugar in fruit juice. Either way, it’s just too much sugar and your body will convert the excess into fat.
To give you a better idea of how just one can of Coke or one bottle of orange juice a day can greatly impact your health, consider this: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar per day, and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) per day.
If you or your child are regularly having a soda or juice each day, that means your are consistently consuming more sugar than recommended every single day.
Also remember, this is just one drink! You should be sure to take into consideration sneaky sugar that’s in all kinds of processed foods, such as:
- Fast food
- Condiments & sauces
- Snack bars & cereals
- Dairy products (such as yogurt)
- Baked goods, breads, and pastries
Simple Ways to Reduce Sugar Intake
Set a good example. Making changes to your own personal diet is an important way to set an example for your children. It may be difficult at first, but adopting healthy habits yourself will lay a strong foundation of guidelines for your kids to follow.
Wean children off high-sugar drinks. Try diluting fruit juice with water, or chocolate milk with regular milk until they become more sensitive to smaller amounts of sugar. Use True Citrus drink mixes in place of sweetened teas or lemonade.
Swap sugary for savory. Sugary yogurts, snacks, and cereals can be replaced with crunchy veggies or homemade dips. Keep an eye out for processed foods that are specifically marketed to children, as they often contain a lot of added sugars.
Get more natural. If your kids are used to having candy or chocolate, encourage fresh fruit instead. Eating the whole fruit is more nutritional than having juice, and contains fiber to aid in digestion. Once they’ve switched to enjoying fruit rather than processed sugars, start adding more vegetables.
Swap out carb-heavy bases for vegetables. Breads and pastas are carbohydrates, and broken down in our bodies as sugar. When trying to cut back on the overall sugar we eat, there is a risk of tipping the scale over to eating more carbohydrates to satisfy the sugar cravings. Get creative with using different vegetables instead of defaulting to carbs, for example:
- Pulse cauliflower in a food processor to make cauliflower “rice”. Too cook, fry in a pan with some oil and season with salt & pepper.
Get a spiralizer and make vegetable “noodles” out of anything from beets to zucchini, or carrots to butternut squash.
- Instead of toast, serve eggs on a bed of fresh spinach or mixed greens lightly dressed with olive oil and True Lemon.
Childhood obesity is a big problem in this country, but more evidence is being found every day about how to fight it. By educating ourselves and making smart choices every day, we pave the way for our kids to have a healthier future.
[Credit: O’Connor, Anahad. “To Fight Fatty Liver, Avoid Sugary Foods and Drinks.” New York Times.] [Credit: Andrews, Ryan. “Nutrition for Kids: Helping Children Get Off to A Good Start.” Precision Nutrition.] [Credit: NCBI Research. “Childhood Obesity: Causes and Consequences.” 2015.] [Credit: World Health Organization. “Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of childhood overweight and obesity.” 2019.] [Credit: The State of Obesity. “The State of Childhood Obesity.”]