In recent years, parents are finding it more challenging to encourage healthy lifestyles in their children. Research predicts that nearly three in every five of today’s children will be obese by the time they are 35 years old.
This creates a significant issue, as being obese can contribute to many health problems, including heart disease, digestive problems, sleeping irregularities, breathing issues and mental disorders. In short, providing opportunities for your child to set beneficial habits is imperative to a healthy life.
It’s not always easy to find ways to help your overweight child, but making these changes will have a long-lasting impact on their life. For obese kids, learning healthy habits sets them up for a lifetime of better decision making, not to mention fewer health problems, lower stress and better cognitive and social functioning.
The key is not only identifying obesity-related health problems as they arise, but knowing what to do as you see these symptoms begin to develop.
How Can I Tell If My Child’s Habits Are Healthy?
One of the challenges in addressing childhood health is that there are so many contributing factors.
Many people tend to think weight gain is as simple as calories in versus calories out, but there are many other aspects that affect health and weight gain. Seemingly unrelated traits — such as stress, living conditions and genetics — can cause weight gain as well.
For these reasons, it is essential that you discuss any weight-related concerns with your family doctor before taking action so that they can include all possible factors in any treatment plan. Weight gain can be a sign of other serious medical conditions, which may require additional treatments.
As you plan to meet with your child’s pediatrician, some traits to monitor include:
- Physical Activity: Experts recommend that children should have at least one hour of physical activity every day. Unfortunately, fewer than one in 10 kids get the recommended amount of exercise every day. Physical activity helps bone and muscle development while also burning calories.
- Moreover, active play can help kids gain important coordination and skill, building confidence and abilities they can use as they grow. These benefits don’t even take into account how physical exercise releases dopamine and other important, healthy hormones into our bodies. Simply put, getting up and moving, especially as part of a routine, is foundational to a healthy lifestyle.
- Screen time: Child screen time has become such a common concern that, in some ways, it may feel overstated. However, more than two hours of screen time per day can increase negative traits like anxiety and depression, attention issues, sleeping difficulties and weight-related problems. Excessive screen time may also cut into your child’s social interactions, encouraging them to continually engage with others in virtual platforms rather than in reality.
- Diet: You don’t need to be a nutritionist or health expert to watch your child’s eating habits. Most people understand that monitoring nutrients and fat intake is critical for health. Outside of that, One of the most critical concepts to watch is portion size — how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. My Plate, a popular government resource, aims to make sizing up food portions more manageable.
- Social Interactions: Social life can provide vital information for several reasons. An active social life can be integral in getting kids up and moving, whether it’s participating in athletics or simply making up a game with friends. In addition, noting any sudden changes in a child’s social interactions, especially withdrawal or isolation, could be a warning sign of depression or other mental health issues.
- Stress: Chronic stress can affect health in a variety of ways. Elevated levels of cortisol — often referred to as “the stress hormone” — can lead to trouble sleeping, a weakened immune system and weight gain. Stress can also contribute to weight gain through improper coping mechanisms. If your child develops emotional eating as a form of stress release, there is a likelihood this pattern will continue later in life.
- Sleeping Habits: This is an often overlooked but critical contributing factor in assessing a child’s health. Poor sleeping habits contribute to stress — which, as noted, can directly affect a child’s weight. While the proper amount of sleep varies from child to child, health experts note that school-age children may need anywhere between eight to 13 hours of sleep. Both sleeping too little and too much can be a warning sign of physical or mental health issues.
How Do I Help My Child Develop Healthy Habits?
Establishing healthy habits for kids can be frustrating and confusing. As a parent, you have to pick your battles, and sometimes between schoolwork, behavior and other family matters, trying to convince kids to make healthy choices can drift pretty low on the priority list. However, it’s important to remember that helping your child develop healthy habits now will set them up for a lifetime of better decision making.
Some ways to get kids moving and playing include:
- Developing Fun Outlets: Getting kids more active can be difficult, but if you don’t have any specific ideas for them to get up and moving, it can be almost impossible. Setting up an age-appropriate outlet, like constructing a playset for younger children or putting a basketball hoop in the driveway can give you a place to direct kids who would otherwise sit around staring at a screen.
- Participating With Your Kids: One of the best ways to get your child to be more active is to make it a family event. This not only makes it easier to make healthy decisions since they are more accessible, but it adds to the concept that this change is more about lifestyle rather than weight. Plan family walks or exercise, include the kids in healthy meal preparation or set other healthy family activities to support each other as a team. What is important is that you are an involved role model living a healthy lifestyle, encouraging your child to engage as well.
- Making It a Lifestyle Change: Most experts agree that being healthy isn’t about a weight-loss diet or a particular workout routine. It’s about developing a lifestyle that naturally incorporates healthy elements. Knowing this, don’t think of meal planning and exercise as extra tasks to be done. Make them natural aspects of your life that will benefit you and your kids.
- Making Small Changes, Not Big Ones: Put a bowl of fruit on the counter instead of a cookie jar, turning a quick-grab snack into a nutritional treat. Park the car at the end of the parking lot and get a little extra movement instead of driving around to look for a spot. While these may seem insignificant, they contribute not only to your health but to your mindset. This change in perception can help kids gain a new perspective on possible healthy alternatives to other decisions.
How to Talk to Your Child About Losing Weight
Knowing what to say to your overweight child can be incredibly difficult. However, learning how to talk to your child about being overweight is essential in having productive conversations on the topic. Above all, emphasize your love and concern for their well-being, letting them know that your efforts mean you care about them and their future:
- Emphasize the Gain, Not the Loss: One of the most important aspects to consider is how not to make weight loss seem like a punishment or chore. With a negative attitude, kids can quickly become frustrated or give up on getting healthy. The key is to focus on the positives that are available and the growth that they have made rather than what needs to be restricted.
- Discuss Children’s Goals and Interests: Because kids are still developing their executive functioning skills, they sometimes literally can’t understand the connection between what they do today and how it will affect their future. By talking to kids about interests or goals, as well as their perceptions of their health, parents can help develop an understanding of cause and effect. Besides, once kids become motivated by things they love, it can be easier to get them away from the devices and working on something more healthy and productive. Not only will this often have connections to getting outside, but it builds a sense of self-worth, encouraging kids to take care of themselves.
- Consider Health, Not Weight: This can help emphasize your concern for their well-being rather than their appearance and avoid shame or stigma that may come with being overweight. It’s also important to recognize that tools like Body Mass Index (BMI) don’t provide a complete picture of health. This is why it’s imperative that you talk to your family doctor when making any decisions.
- Take Them Grocery Shopping: If possible, try to bring your child to the store with you. Looking at labels together can be a great conversation transition into healthy eating. Discussing the calorie content, saturated fat levels or other primary indicators of food health can also help kids recognize you’re interested in what they eat.
- Get Informed: Much of the health information you find is tailored toward adults. This is a problem considering kids have different health needs than adults, including different calorie, fat and protein requirements. Remember that children are not just little adults — their bodies work differently. Your family pediatrician will be able to help you decide what will work best for your child.
The Importance of Exercise for Children
Exercise is integral to a child’s development. While many people may focus on the crucial physical aspects, there are significant cognitive and emotional increases to consider as well. Putting kids in a situation where play is encouraged and valued sets them up to continue participating in physical activities throughout their lives, very likely benefiting them well beyond their physical development.
Kids receive incredible benefits from physical play, including:
- Physical Health: The most obvious connection most people make is that children who engage in healthier lifestyles have better physical health. This includes lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, morbidity and mortality. It can help build muscle and bone density, and it helps children face fewer health problems in general. Physical interactions can also increase coordination and hand-eye coordination, improving both major and fine motor skills.
- Mental and Emotional Improvements: Engaging in physical activity also has a positive effect on the brain. Engaging in physical play can have a positive impact on cognitive health and well-being. Exercise can help children who are struggling with anxiety or depression by releasing natural hormones to fight these conditions. Moreover, researchers have found that having children engage in as little as 15 minutes of play before school can increase student performance on standardized tests.
- Social Skills: There are also social benefits to exercise and play. Researchers found that students who are physically active get along better with peers and adults. It’s important to note, however, that these developments occur during collaborative play. Be sure your kids have regular play partners — including yourself — to help develop these essential social aspects.
How Can Playsets Encourage Healthy Habits?
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to get kids to play outdoors is that there are already so many comfortable places indoors. The sofa in front of the television, for example, makes a great spot to play video games or text friends — since there is a space dedicated to it. For the outdoors to compete, it’s imperative that kids have a physical place to meet and centralize their play.
Playsets make a great option since it gives them a framework to prompt play while also being open-ended enough to encourage imagination. Depending on the configuration, there’s any combination of swings, climbing walls, ropes, tunnels or slides. This gives kids a foundation for play while still allowing them to utilize their imagination to make the best use of those features.
Play sets are also fantastic because they make a natural play place for kids. Sometimes encouraging children to get the exercise they need is as simple as providing them with an option. One of the reasons it’s so easy to sit and watch television is because there is a designated space for the activity. You could do the same with a playset, but instead of sitting in front of the television, children are outside getting exercise.
Give Them the Tools
Ultimately, helping your child make healthy decisions comes down to putting the resources in front of them and encouraging them to use them. Giving them tasty treats and fun alternative activities helps children see a healthy lifestyle as a desirable choice rather than restriction and rules.
If you are still asking yourself “how can I help my overweight child lose weight?” explore our line of playsets, trampolines and basketball hoops. If you’d like to try the equipment before you buy, check one of our many showrooms across the country.
Helping your child get healthy isn’t impossible, but it does require giving them the correct tools to be successful. Decide which changes can most make an impact on your child and commit to ensuring they have the best health possible.