First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to prevent obesity encourages children to get active — a vital component to living a healthy lifestyle. Why, then, has the campaign recently been called a “miserable” failure? While it’s clear that the “Let’s Move” initiative doesn’t just focus on exercise, maybe Obama should consider adding something about good nutrition in the program’s name. Then again, “Let’s Move and Eat Healthy Foods” doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue.
In any case, Obama’s initiative is a commendable effort in addressing a growing issue (no pun intended) in children’s health in the United States. Though in recent national surveys on physical activity, a full 75% of pre-teens self-reported that they are exercising enough. Unsurprisingly, related data shows that many overweight pre-teens remain heavier through their teen years and early adulthood. What’s more, the number of obese and overweight children in African American and Hispanic communities is even higher.
Indeed, we should encourage one another, and especially children, to get “moving” and exercise regularly, but it goes without question that regular exercise just isn’t as effective if coupled with poor nutrition. How, then, can communities, families and schools achieve this exercise/nutrition balance?
On a larger scale, creating healthier environments for children is a complex and multi-faceted issue. But there are ways to support this effort on a smaller scale. Here are three realistic and simple ways to support healthier lifestyles for children:
1. Talk About Healthy Habits
If you’re a parent, sibling, relative or mentor to a child who has weight issues and is comfortable talking to you about them, listen to what they have to say. In an era where terms like cyberbullying and fat-shaming run rampant, weight and body issues can be very delicate subjects. Simply hearing a child or teen verbalize their concerns, frustrations, or goals concerning health is a strong first step towards making sincere lifestyle changes.
2. Choice Matters
Recent research from the Center for Diet and Activity Research found that children who live close to fast food restaurants are more likely to be obese. Plus, consumers’ spending power can go a long way at fast food chains, considering how every restaurant is bound to have some dollar menu to choose from. But then come stories of people actually losing weight while strictly eating off fast food menus (like this man). The difference? They restricted their calorie intake and often paired entrees with salads. Yes, these are isolated incidences, and yes, this certainly isn’t the recommended way to lose weight, but it does show that choice matters. It’s not just fast food that’s to blame for obesity, but the poor nutritional choices made on a daily basis, no matter where the food comes from.
While fast food may be cheaper and easier to buy than fresh foods, change can happen incrementally. Replacing components of the meal to healthier alternatives can eventually lead to an entire meal being swapped out. It may take awhile to overhaul meals, but if you have the ability and choice to add variety to your meals, that can benefit the next generation and keep them from having to deal with the health issues that come with being an overweight adult.
3. Add Variety to Your Daily Activities
It’s common nowadays for children to know how to operate all types of electronic media. The problem with that is making sure that isn’t their only form of entertainment. Achieving that balance between physical activity, group activity with family and friends and electronic media is critical for social and personal growth — at any age. What’s more, television, websites and even smartphone applications have a way of “sneaking” food advertising in, further showing the pervasive power of fast food chains and the children’s market. Carving out time in your day for activities away from the screen can set a healthy example for those around you, while helping yourself get healthy at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.
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