In light of some recent information I came across this week while working on this article, I decided at the last minute to switch today's topic in favour of focusing on something that I believe deserves the utmost attention; overweight and obese children.  It's not a pleasant thing to think about for sure, but the fact the problem is growing indicates it's definitely something that needs to be addressed. 

According to recent statistics, 33% of all parents surveyed who have an overweight or obese child felt that his/her weight was normal. Couple that with the fact that today's younger generation is the first generation predicted to pre-decease their parents, and we have a problem.  Add to these the fact that even children weighing in the healthy range who have a poor diet are about 35% more likely to develop high cholesterol and all the health problems associated with it, and red flags are waving all over the place. 

The bottom line is that kids in North America today are consuming far more packaged, processed, nutrient-deficient and fast foods more often and in larger portions than ever before. This, in turn, has resulted in more overweight and obese children than ever before. According to the Centre for Disease Control, obesity rates in children have more than doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled for adolescents.  In 2012, greater than one-third of all children and adolescents were overweight or obese.  With that comes the risk for diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and low self esteem to name a few. 

So is there anything that can be done to lessen or eliminate a child's risk of developing such health challenges?  Absolutely there is and the best people to lead the charge are parents.  And the best way for them to get results is to lead by example.  Although kids will never admit it, they are highly influenced not only by what their parents say, but even more so by what the parents do.  After all, how many adults ever pay much attention to those "do as I say, not as I do" people?  My point exactly and kids are no different.

The first step in making any dietary or routine changes is to do so gradually and make it fun.  When my children were quite young, I took them grocery shopping and each week let them choose a new fruit or veggie (rather than a sugary cereal) for the family to try.  The rule was "you don't have to like it, but you do have to try it". This was and still is an inexpensive way to get kids interested in fruits and veggies, especially when they get to choose the food.  My kids could hardly wait to get home and dig in.  Some foods were a hit and labelled "keepers", others never made it back on the grocery list and that was ok.  The whole point was to divert their attention from packaged, unhealthy items and get them excited and interested to try different fruits and veggies and it worked. 

The second step is to educate yourself in what is really in the food you and your children are eating.  Better quality of food means better nourishment for your body which translates into being able to maintain a healthy weight, having more energy, better immune system and improved focus and attention. Reading labels and educating yourself on what ingredients really are and understanding the amounts on the labels will provide you with the knowledge to make educated choices.  For example if you are trying to cut down on the amount of sugar your kids are consuming, what would you consider a reasonable amount to give to your child in one serving, five teaspoons? six? 10? Not likely, however that is often how much is in every day items such as juice boxes, chocolate milk, pop, breakfast cereals, muffins, cookies, granola bars to name a few. FYI there are approximately four grams of sugar per teaspoon. Simply take the number of grams of sugar listed on the package, divide by four and voila, you have the teaspoon equivalent and a much better visual.  Parents, I challenge you to check the number of teaspoons of sugar in a few of your son or daughter's favourite foods and some of your own favourites for that matter.  You may be shocked to find some you thought were healthier choices are not so healthy after all.  So the next time you go shopping, I invite you to involve your children in choosing the produce as well as reading labels.  It's a good place to start.

Actress Mia Farrow once said "With knowledge comes responsibility." and I agree.  I mean, how could anyone in good conscience continue to consume a product or give it to their children if they found it to be unhealthy or even damaging?  Children will continue to grow into adults regardless of what they eat.  The level of health and the quality of life they will either enjoy or suffer with as an adult is directly related to the quality of food we fuel them with as they are growing.

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