Sometimes it can be hard to eat healthy when all the yummy snack foods are so enjoyable. However, when you look at our youth and the rate of obesity, our consumption and the type of foods we eat has to get better. The New England Journal of Medicine states that, “for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a new report, which contends that the rapid rise in childhood obesity, if left unchecked, could shorten life spans by as much as five years.”
“The rapid rise in pediatric obesity is due to a ‘perfect storm’ of factors, including genetic, environmental, behavioral and cultural factors,” says Melanie K. Bean, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and Director of Behavioral and Clinical Services.
Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water or a combination of these factors. About one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) is overweight or obese. “We have more easy, processed foods available, portion sizes have dramatically increased, kids get excessive calories from snacks and sugared drinks, and our environment and culture have made it tougher to make healthy choices,” comments Bean.
Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term impacts on physical, social, and emotional health. For example:
- Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for heart disease.
- Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers, and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem.
- In the long term, childhood obesity also is associated with having obesity as an adult, which is linked to serious conditions and diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and several types of cancer.
“The greatest contributors to children’s eating and exercise behaviors is their parents’ own eating and exercise behaviors,” says Dr. Bean. “Parents should role model healthy eating and exercise and can set the home environment up for success by having mostly healthy options available.”
Here are some other things Bean suggests to help make your home a healthy haven:
- Parents should put healthier foods at eye level so your child is more likely to see and choose them.
- Do not stock soda in the fridge.
- Do not completely restrict sweets and treats, however, as that does often lead to increased desire and often sneaking (or overeating when the food is available).
- Go out for ice cream once occasionally, versus having it in the freezer where it is more accessible.
- Incorporate family-based exercise, like taking a family trip to the park on the weekend.
- Set limits. For example, setting limits on screen times (less than 2 hours/day is recommended) and keeping TVs out of the bedroom. As kids get older, ensuring screens (phones, etc.) are not available at night, as they interrupt sleep, and there is increasing evidence to support the role of poor sleep on development of obesity.
Schools can also have a major impact on children’s dietary intake and activity patterns. Ensuring children have adequate nutrition is linked to healthier weights, reductions in hunger, as well as improved academic performance.
There is strong science behind incorporating movement into the school day, via “brain breaks” or teaching a lesson that includes kinesthetic learning versus passive listening to lectures. Given the large amount of time children spend in schools, this environment can have a major impact on their overall dietary intake and health. Girls on the Run of Greater Richmond (GOTR RVA) understands just that.
The mission of GOTR RVA is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Meeting twice a week in small teams of 10-15 girls, GOTR RVA teaches life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. GOTR RVA is a physical activity-based positive youth development program that is designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological and physical skills and behaviors to successfully navigate life experiences. The 24-lesson curriculum is taught by certified Girls on the Run coaches and includes three parts: understanding ourselves, valuing relationships and teamwork and understanding how we connect with and shape the world at large.
For the Fall 2017 season, GOTR RVA has expanded to 15 school locations to include sites in Henrico, Richmond, Hanover and Chesterfield.
“Running is used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness, and build confidence through accomplishment,” says Ruthie Burke, GOTR RVA Council Director. A recent independent study found that girls who were the least active at the start of the season increased their physical activity level by 40% from pre- to post-season and maintained this increased level beyond season’s end.
“This is truly a unique and transformative program for our girls and families.”
At each season’s conclusion, the girls complete a 5k running event. Visit www.gotrrichmond.org for more information on how to get involved as a volunteer or participant.