Habits formed in childhood last a lifetime. Karyl Price, project coordinator for the Creating Healthy Communities Project at the Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Department, said developing good exercise and eating habits is critical for young children.
“It’s a challenge for parents who are very busy to always have fresh and healthy foods available,” Price said. “We’re in a grab-and-go society. High-calorie drinks are plentiful and it takes some thoughtful consideration to make healthy habits.”
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. According to a press release from the White House, obesity affects millions of children and teenagers, raising their risks of developing serious health problems like diabetes, cancer, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of American children are obese. Certain groups of children are more affected to a greater degree.
The CDC reports children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are more likely than normal weight children to be overweight or obese as adults and they are more likely to suffer lifelong physical and mental health problems.
Price said schools and parents are doing better at providing more healthy options and have increased the amount of physical activity.
“But there is always room for improvement,” she said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility — schools, coaches, parents. Everyone needs to help kids to stay busy and active.”
Jill Fulk, outpatient director at MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital, said one of the best things a parent can do for a child is to be a good role model.
“You don’t want to ask a child to do something you’re not doing yourself,” she said. “Parents have to set the example. Get the kids involved, too. Have them help with meal preparation and planning. We’re getting better as a society, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Prevention is key.”
The CDC said there is no single — or simple — solution to childhood obesity.
The problem is influenced by many different factors, including for some children a lack of places to get adequate physical activity or a lack of access to healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Research shows fruits and vegetables are important in promoting good health and are helpful in losing or managing weight. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and contain plenty of filling water and fiber. Children can consume fewer calories and stay fuller by substituting fruits and vegetables for foods with higher-calorie ingredients such as added sugars and solid fats.
Helping healthy growth is not the only benefit of eating more fruits and vegetables. These foods also contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that may help protect children against health conditions later in life. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important for everyone and especially children because it contributes to their optimal growth and development.
Fulk said kids need a lot of support. “The responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the parents’ shoulders. Everyone needs to help. Schools are so important because kids spend so much of their day there,” she said. “Kids need 60 minutes a day of activity. Anywhere they can go to engage in a safe activity is great — even if it’s just going to their room, turning on music and dancing.”