In the past children would spend hours outside playing with their friends - whatever the weather. They were also encouraged to participate in organized school sport, although not all children wanted to. The long summers without school meant children had the freedom to spend all day exploring. But in many cases, modern technology and a growing fear of keeping children safe has changed all that.
Today, official figures indicate that (a) in the UK one in every four children in the two to five year age range is overweight or obese while (b) in the USA, it is one in every three in the same age range.
A less than healthy diet has severely added to the problem.
There are serious consequences for this increase
These children are at risk for a number of serious health problems such as:
Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes was once called adult-onset diabetes but that has all changed. There is now a dramatic rise in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes which left untreated can be a life-threatening condition.
Asthma: Extra weight can make it harder to breathe and can inflame the respiratory tract. There is a rise in childhood asthma anyway while those with chronic asthma are more likely to be overweight.
Heart Failure: Being overweight makes the heart work harder. Overweight children have a much higher risk of developing heart problems if they grow up to be overweight adults.
Why has this situation been allowed to develop?
There are several culprits!
- All that time spent in front of screens takes away from the quality time children spend being physically active and even leads to increased snacking while TV can influence children with their commercials for unhealthy food.
- Yes, that marketing of foods high in calories, sugars, processed salts and the bad fats (while being low in nutrients) is aimed at children of all ages. It is actually a misnomer to even call them foods.
- The children of more affluent families have access to farmers markets and wholesome food stores but there is a dearth of such places in rural and low income neighborhoods. In fact it is usually much cheaper for these families to use convenience stores and fast food take outs.
- Other countries are often shocked at the portion sizes of those less healthy foods and beverages served in restaurants, grocery stores, and vending machines in the US. Research shows that children eat more without realizing it if they are served larger portions, consuming unnecessarily high levels of calories.
- Sodas and fruit juices are the largest source of added sugar in the diets of children and adolescents.
- Lack of exercise in schools. While organized sport is no longer practised in UK state schools, neither is there any federal law requiring physical education in American schools. Daily quality physical education in schools would be a huge step in the right direction in cutting obesity/overweight levels but at the moment the percentage who have access to this is dismally low.
What can parents do to help?
Children of all ages
: Along with providing and encouraging healthy eating options, help your children understand the benefits of being physically active.
Teach them about the great health benefits such as strengthening their bones, decreasing blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing self-esteem and of course helping with weight management.
: In the technological age it has become more important than ever to provide action and exercise for young children. Experts would like us to encourage children to:
- Build dens
- Climb trees
- Walk to school
- Help with chores in the house and yard
And two further activities that I guess some parents might have a problem with
- Splashing in the bath!
- Jumping on the bed!
More for young children
These same experts have suggested more emphasis on exercise for younger children by parents, teachers and childcare workers. Children are constantly assessed on their mental abilities inside schools and child care centers but they want those same children's skills in physical activities to be assessed too. Activities such as skipping, jumping, climbing and hopping.
What do you remember doing as a young child?
Did you enjoy climbing trees, swimming, skipping, making dens, playing hide and seek as well as kicking or catching a ball?
Think what modern day children could be missing out on?
Ideally, children need at least three hours of exercise every day.
And if you can promote a love of action, activity and exercise in young children, they stand a better chance of continuing with the same as they grow older while of course avoiding becoming overweight or obese.