Were you ever called “chubby” or “fatso” growing up? I was—and the healing process, both mentally and physically, has been a long one. The number of overweight and obese children in America today is even higher than it was when I was a child. Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and teens are overweight and another 15 percent are at risk for becoming overweight. According to Sabrina Chyzyk, MS, RD, EEE, a Southern California nutritionist who works in childhood obesity, “since 1994, the overweight rates in children continue to rise.” The epidemic of obesity in children is due to a multitude of factors: genetics, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns [consuming processed, low nutrient, high calorie food] or a combination of these elements. Most excess weight is caused by the choices kids make about the food they eat and the physical activity they are [or are not] incorporating into their lives.

Today’s world is defined by the “drive-through” mentality. Fast food, processed snacks and sugar-laden treats are available 24 hours a day at our local corner convenience stores; there is a cornucopia of food choices out there that are prepared in a hurry for people in a hurry. Yet there are ways to step off the junk food fast track. Making healthy eating a family event is one of the strategies parents can employ to encourage healthy eating habits in their children. These habits begin with parents because they are the ones who provide the food, whether it’s by cooking at home or ordering take-out. Having regular family mealtimes and serving a variety of healthy foods and snacks at home is essential to reversing the trend of bad childhood eating habits. Involving everyone in the process, from making food choices together to preparing the food, is important. Finally, planning for and following through on family time that focuses on physical activity supports a changed lifestyle in kids as well.

“The top priority in fighting this epidemic is showing our children the positives of living healthy, not the negatives,” says Dr. Naresh Rao, director of wellness services and co-founder of the Lifewellness Institute in San Diego, “Another step is providing a healthy role model for children in the form of healthy parents [families], teachers, doctors—anyone who may be a role model that children look up to to learn from.”
Dr. Rao says that healthy living must be a part of a family’s daily routine:

“That means keeping children active [and] limiting TV and computer time [in addition to]…eating fruits or vegetables, more veggies than fruit if possible, everyday, minimizing fast food and working on self esteem and positive peer relationships.”

Dr. Rao also says that prevention is the key—and the best form of prevention is for parents to be an example to their children. Many overweight children grow into their extra pounds as they get taller. Intense focus on a child’s eating habits can cause them to rebel and overeat even more or possibly develop an eating disorder. Children will take the habits they learn in childhood with them wherever they go in later years.

Besides spending time with their families, children spend a majority of their lives at school. Action for Healthy Kids (AHK) is addresses the epidemic of overweight, sedentary, and undernourished youth by focusing on changes in schools to improve nutrition and increase physical activity. AHK was formed in 2002 at the Healthy Schools Summit in Washington, D.C. after David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General, asked the American people to address the growing crisis of childhood obesity. AHK is a public-private partnership of more than 50 national organizations and government agencies representing the educational, health, fitness and nutrition industries. There are Action for Healthy Kids’ teams in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and New York City. These teams are comprised of thousands of volunteer administrators, educators, health professionals, parents, and others interested in this cause.

Childhood obesity will decrease only as parents and children begin to actively make healthy choices in what they eat and what they do with their time. Take it from one who knows—the social and emotional results of being an overweight child, adolescent, or teenager are not fun. Low self-esteem caused by teasing or bullying, social withdrawal and acting out are defensive mechanisms overweight children can default to. These behaviors can ultimately lead to depression and other, more serious conditions. Childhood is meant to be enjoyed. These years form the foundation upon which we build our lives. Why not stack the odds in favor of our future generations and teach them how to live happier and healthy lives? The choices they make depend largely on the role models they have.

Author's Bio: 

Lorri Gifford has been reading Tarot Cards since 1986. While living in California, she worked at The Chopra Center for Well-being as their Spa Director and a Lead Educator. In 2009 her intuition guided her to move to Asheville. Lorri enjoys writing, giving readings, coaching and helping others develop and deepen their intuition. She can be reached at www.readingswithlorri.com or 828.505.4485.