With warmer weather finally approaching, activity levels in children generally starts to climb as children move outdoors to play with friends. Unfortunately, activity rates in children is not consistent year round, which contributes to unintentional weight gain and unhealthy body weight throughout childhood.
Childhood obesity is a national problem that is in need of attention. Lifestyle choices play a large part in becoming overweight and obese. After just a few years of carrying excess weight, metabolic changes occur. These can include insulin resistance which can lead to type two diabetes, high triglycerides and blood pressure (risk factors for cardiovascular disease), and breathing problems such as sleep apnea.
Canadian children are not moving enough. In the digital world of computers, tablets, cellphones, video games and television, exercise has become a less desirable activity. Canada's physical activity guidelines state that children need 60 minutes of vigorous activity everyday and the reality is far from this target. In the 2009-2011 Stats Canada report, it was reported that the average Canadian child spends 7.5 hours in front of a screen each day, and less than 30 minutes engaging in some form of physical activity. Read more on this in the Active Healthy Kids Canada 2013 Report Card.
- Set limits on screen time. Talk to teachers to see how many hours of screen time children are exposed to at school, and limit the amount at home.
- Set goals on physical activity. If there is a safe route to school, have kids walk or bike. Enroll children in sports or dance, or encourage them to join extracurricular activities.
There is an abundance of packaged, processed and convenience foods available almost everywhere; as a result, children (and everyone else!) are consuming far too much of these foods. To avoid this, try keeping nutritious 'grab and go' items in your fridge or pantry for rushed meals and snacks, without sacrificing nutrition. The NK Cocoa-Chia Energy Bites are a great option to keep on hand. If kitchen shelves are stocked with healthy alternatives, positive food choices will be more likely to happen.
- Nutrition Facts Table. Use the percent daily value (% DV). Use the 5-15% rule: Products that contain >15% DV contains a lot of that nutrient, whereas <5% DV contains a little of that nutrient. When choosing packaged foods, look for products that have: <15% DV for nutrients you want to eat in limited quantities such as sodium and fat, and look for products that have higher %DV for nutrients such as fibre.
- Product Claims. Don’t be fooled by product claims such as low fat or sugar free. In reducing the fat content (ie. reducing flavour) of foods, food companies add back missing flavour by adding sugar, artificial sweeteners, salt, and other compounds to enhance the taste of that food. When foods are sweetened artificially instead of with sugar, the foods taste sweet, but that flavour has been chemically achieved. Instead, choose the more natural product, with less additives, and limit the the portion size of these foods.
- Shopping the Peripheral. This is an old and outdated tip. By shopping the peripheral of the grocery store, you will be faced with great choices like fresh produce, butcher counter, breads, and dairy, however what's missed are items like dried or canned beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, various whole grain items (quinoa, bulger, kamut, oats), and frozen fruits and vegetables. When shopping down these isles of grocery stores, try to limit heavily processed and salt- and sugar-laden foods.
- Refrain from using food as a reward. This teaches children food hierarchy and sets up unhealthy relationships with food.
By implementing some of these strategies, you will be setting your child up for a long, healthy life with positive lifestyle habits. Start by making healthier food choices at home, the next time you shop, and try a new healthy recipe. Get active with your family by taking a family walk after dinner, playing in the yard or at a local park, or start a fitness challenge for number of active minutes or number of steps in a day. For more information and individual consultation, NutriKidz is here to help!