There is great truth in the old saying that our children are our future. Unfortunately, the children of today may not have a healthy future lying ahead of them if lifestyle choices do not change.
In 2007-2008, almost 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 were obese. An overweight or obese adolescent is 70 percent more likely to be an overweight or obese adult. Overweight and obese children and teens are at an increased risk to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and arthritis, as well as many other illnesses.
The more active children are, the less likely they will develop a chronic illness. Children and teenagers should be physically active for an hour most or all days of the week. To help our children become more active, as parents, we can limit time in front of the TV and computer to less than two hours per day; ask them to participate in active chores, such as raking leaves or vacuuming; and most important, be active together as a family.
The most important way we, as parents, can encourage activity is by setting a good example ourselves and utilizing physical activities to spend time with our children. Find the activity that your family enjoys doing and spend time doing it. It could include various cardiovascular activities, such as walking, running, playing ball or jumping rope. As parents, we can encourage our children to exercise by enrolling them in sports. Being part of a team not only promotes cardiovascular activity, but teaches children about teamwork. When you find a sport your child enjoys, this is one step toward developing exercise habits that can last a lifetime.
My 10-year-old daughter, Catherine, began running cross-country for her school this past fall, and discovered she really enjoyed it. She wanted to run a 5K, so we set that as a goal and ran two 5Ks during the month of April. We are planning to run more 5Ks in the future, and this is an excellent way for us to spend time together, as well as get our physical activity.
Regular exercise also can help children increase their self-confidence, decrease stress and anxiety, be more prepared to learn in school, maintain a healthy weight, build healthy bones and muscles, and sleep better at night.
In addition to exercise, encourage your children to make healthy choices when eating. Keep a supply of healthy foods on hand for lunches and snacks. Healthy choices might consist of non-fat milk, nuts, fruit, carrots, low-fat cheese and whole-grain breakfast cereals. Some 100-calorie or less, low-sugar treats that are healthy snacks include a medium size apple, a medium size banana, grapes, apple slices with low-fat cheese, an 8-ounce cup of low-fat yogurt, trail mix, pretzels and fruit cups. Other ways we can encourage our children to eat healthier are to limit visits to fast food restaurants; serve meals at the same time of day or as close to the same time as possible; serve fruit for dessert in place of cakes and pies; bake, broil or grill foods, and most importantly, set a good example by eating healthy yourself.
Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse, certified diabetes educator and program coordinator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.
For more information on diabetes and weight management programs, call the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center at 865-977-5767.