Like their parents, North American children have become way too sedentary. The result: it's harder for many growing kids to burn off calories. So they're eating junk and not burning it off. It's no wonder that childhood obesity is an epidemic.
What should you do?
One of the best ways to help your family get up and go is to make family time fitness time. "If you can combine the benefits of exercise with quality time with your kids, then you're getting the best use of your time," says Sarah Miller, mother of two and a personal trainer based in Oakville, Ontario. When you're active together, everyone's health will benefit, you'll share some special time with your children and you'll provide a good role model, letting your child know that exercise is important in everyone's life.
In their book, The Overweight Child: Promoting Fitness and Self Esteem, authors Teresa Pitman and Miriam Kaufman offer some strategies to encourage your kids to get up and go:
- When they say: "But it's too hot to go out"...
...You can suggest "It may be hot but if we dress properly and drink lots of water, we'll stay cool." Decide on an activity that everyone likes and make an afternoon of it. Try swimming at the community pool, taking a hike at a local conservation area, or cycling. Don't forget the hats and sunscreen!
- When they say: "I'm bored"...
...You can say: "Let's go explore the neighbourhood." Biking and walking are also great aerobic family workouts. Even if she's too young to walk or sit up, you can include your youngest family member with a jogging or regular stroller, a carrier, bike trailers or bike seat.
- When they say: "I want to watch my show"...
...Try: "Television is off-limits to all of us." Set a good example and watch less TV yourself. The kids may even follow your lead. Instead of everyone flopping on the couch after dinner, go outside and throw a ball around, take a night walk, or kick a soccer ball at the local park.
- When they say: "I'm too tired"...
...Tell them: "Exercise and eating well can boost your energy."
Children who don't eat a proper diet and get enough exercise have lower energy levels. Set a good example by giving your family a well-balanced diet that includes the four basic food groups. Avoid fatty, sugary, processed foods that add empty calories.
But what happens when it's gone too far? How can you tell your child's weight is a problem?
(Below come courtesy of: Get a Healthy Weight for Your Child: A Parent's guide to Better Eating and Exercise, by Dr. Brian McCrindle and James Wengle. The Hospital for Sick Children: Toronto). If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it may be a clue your child's weight is causing physical and emotional problems and you should seek professional help:
- Does your child move slowly from place to place?
- Does your child shy away from or avoid most physical activities?
- Does your child have difficulty keeping up with friends during physical activity?
- Does your child seem to breathe more heavily or get short of breath more easily than their friends during physical activity?
- Does your child seem to sweat a lot or more easily than other children during physical activity?
- Does your child become extremely flushed or "red in the face" during physical activity?
- Is your child overweight and becoming distanced from social activities or from activities once enjoyed?
- Has your child been expressing any unusual signs of sadness, anger or frustration?
- Is your child having any problems in interactions with other children?
- Have your child's teachers and coaches expressed concern about any changes in your child's behaviour?
- Is your child having difficulties concentrating at school or while playing sports or games?
- Is your child hurting other children?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, go visit your doctor or public health nurse and ask for help.