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What Can - No, MUST - Be Done
Back in the day, you'd hardly see an overweight child, in the 21st century, it's more uncommon to see a child who isn't overweight.
Walk into any school in North America. The growing rate of obesity will become clearly evident. You'll not only see many kids riddled with weight problems, but there's a good chance you'll see a great many of them consume junk food at that exact moment.
Everywhere you turn, mass marketing targets young children and teenagers, crowding out what few marketing efforts go into making smart choices - choices that promote good health over the long run.
To make matters worse, parents face busier and busier schedules these days, meaning less thought and effort go into planning school lunches or even family meal times together.
Just give a child $20 to basically set them up for a day filled with junk food - since there likely is no shortage of options right on the school premises.
More and more schools are starting to take a more active role in offering healthier choices, but the good-old standbys of fries, burgers, grilled cheese, chips and soda/pop make up the standard fare for the lunchtime meal.
These types of foods are easy to spot and thus you'd think would be easy to avoid, but it's sometimes the seemingly healthy meals that sneak into the diet of our children that really cause problems.
For instance, take those typical 'real fruit snacks'. How much 'real fruit' is actually in there? Not much. Some adults don't yet understand this, so they send those snacks off with their kids, thinking they're doing their part to really battle obesity. Guess again.
Educating parents is definitely a step that has to be taken. Educating children, particularly those in the early teen years, is equally important.
At these ages, many times it's not going to matter what the parents do, the teens will eat how they please. By making them more aware of these consequences and getting into better habits, we will battle this serious problem that's rapidly becoming overwhelming.
"The biggest contributor to childhood obesity is lifestyle," said Melvin Royster, president of Body Styles By Mel, a company based out of Maryland that runs an entire program devoted to getting kids more active. "Families are busy and everyone is looking for that quick meal - the easy way out. Even if the food suggests it is low fat or low sugar, this doesn't necessarily mean it contains healthy ingredients".
The Factor Of Activity
First, it's important to keep in mind there are two key components at play with the growing rate of childhood obesity. Many of us are quick to blame our kids' diets - which is definitely valid, however a lack of physical activity is also a very big issue these young individuals face.
"Kids are too busy playing games and on the phone with their friends," Melvin said. "Gym classes seem to be lacking in the school systems, and if a child isn't involved in some kind of sport, he or she might only see about an hour or two of physical activity each week. This isn't even close to enough to be called 'physical activity."
We now see more options available to get our kids active, such as the very popular Nintendo Wii games, but even still, this is unlikely to keep their attention long enough to instill better habits with regard to activity over the long term.
Melvin, in his experience, said the best way to get kids to be more active is to focus on creating daily activities they enjoy and then incorporate them with their daily schedule. By having them become a part of what they do every single day, you'll definitely increase the chances that they stick with the good habit.
Melvin recommends creating games with basic movements such as jumping, running, crawling, throwing and climbing. These are all action patterns that kids are familiar with and can usually execute without too much difficulty.
If you put too much focus on the traditional sports, you'll always have a good number of kids who simply don't like that sport, or don't have the coordination or skill level to perform it well enough that they feel confident playing.
Activity does not need to meet organized activities. It can just as easily be anything that gets the body moving.
Kid Friendly Nutrition
Once you've got the activity factor covered, then you definitely need to step in and think about the nutritional factors. Simply controlling portion sizes with some kids can work if they typically overdo it with the amount of food they eat, but very often they may just need a full diet overhaul.
One big thing to keep in mind is limiting their intake of fructose and corn syrup. These will rapidly contribute to weight gain. The biggest contributor of both of these in most diets will be with soda, candy and processed foods, so eliminating them will be a huge step ahead.
In addition to packing healthier lunches with your kids, it's also important to model good behavior yourself. Having meals together as much as possible will help with this. Be sure whatever food you eat in front of them is a healthy choice (your choice of snacks, etc).
Kids watch you, so it's essential that you demonstrate good habits if you want them to incorporate these habits into their lifestyle.
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Note, getting many kids to eat healthier can be as simple as giving them a dip to have alongside their raw vegetables. Simple changes or additions to healthier foods will up the taste factor and make your kids more interested in choosing those over a less-healthy choice.
What To Do If Nothing Else Works
If you feel as though you've been trying really hard to get your child more involved in exercising and eating right but are still not making progress, you might really want to consider consulting a fitness professional, Melvin recommends.
Many parents mistakenly believe that teens should not be weight training at all, but this is not necessarily the case.
If they are shown correct form and lift using lower weights or just their body weight, they can definitely get involved with strengthening activities and show good benefits from it.
Not only will strength training help them build stronger bones, but it will also help them put up a better fight toward weight gain because the more muscle mass they have, the higher their metabolic rate will be.
A certified fitness professional will be able to show them exercises that they can do without putting them at high risk for injury and also be sure they're using correct form throughout.
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So, make sure if you're a parent, you do what you can to promote a healthy lifestyle among your children and teens. It is a big battle to try and fight, but with small steps at a time, it can be manageable.
If you'd like to speak with Melvin more about what you can do to help keep your kids more active and eating right, you can contact him at Mel@bodystylesbymel.com or visit him online to read more about his programs at www.bodystylesbymel.com.