Adolescant obesity is when a 2-19 year old person has a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile per the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts. BMI is one value used to define weight status by comparing your height to weight ratio to others. However, BMI is best used with other measuremeants since it does not take into account things like muscle mass, bone density and hydration status, which could result in a falsely high BMI. Research shows the rate of obesity in children seems to increase as children get older; the largest percentages seen in 12- to 19-year olds. Family education and income also seem to be related to childrens’ obesity rates. Data shows the lower and middle income familes tend to have more obese children than those with higher household income and education.
As parents, you have a lot of control over your children’s food supply. If you suspect your child is overweight or obese for their age, the first thing to do is speak with your pediatrician. Together, you can decide how to proceed, as well as whether or not your child’s weight is actually seen as an issue. Children aged 2-19 are still growing. So in some cases, a child’s height will catch up to their weight over time, which will lower their BMI.
If you and your pediatrician have decided it would be best to make some changes to help your child’s weight, the entire family must be willing to join in. This will help make sure your child doesn’t feel singled out, shamed, or different from the rest of the family. Research has shown children who were “put on a diet” in adolescence, had more negative and stressful feelings towards food into adulthood. That being said, here is what TO DO to get the entire family healthier!
- Exercise is always the first line of defense. There is no negative consequence to moving more and this takes the focus away from food. The good news is, you won’t have to join a gym or buy a weight set, because every little bit counts. Some easy examples you could start today include walking after dinner, setting an alarm to stand or stretch evey 30 minutes during a television binge, getting outside to a park, taking a nature walk or hike, or playing charades or muscial chairs.
- Halt the junk. If you’ve attended any of my presentations or webinars, I am sure you’ve heard me say, “If you buy junk, you will eat junk”. This is true for all of your family members. If you buy cookies, chips, and ice cream, that is what you will eat. Keep these items out of your cubboards and leave them to be purchased on an as needed basis when and if the craving arises. This will ensure you REALLY want the junk food and are not just eating it out of routine or boredom.
- Food prep for future you. Much like the junk analogy, you can only eat healthy foods if you buy them! Doing this is even more likely if you make the more nutritious foods as easy to eat as a pudding cup. When you purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, try to get them peeled, cut, and portioned as soon as possible. Make these items as visible as possible to get them on the forefront of your mind to eat. A great way to do this is to…
- …Make a snack box. Gather together a variety of snacks and put them into individualized containers or baggies. Make the majority of them healthy options, such as: fresh or dried fruit, veggie sticks with dressing, whole grain crackers and hummus, granola with nuts and seeds, peanut/nut butters and apple slices. Then, add 1 or 2 junk food snacks like a small candy bar or a small bag of chips. Every day, let your child select a snack from the box, with the understanding that all of the snacks must ultimately be eaten before they will be replenished. This allows your child to have a choice in the matter, but more often than not, the choice will be a healthy one.
- Let your kids pick the dinner vegetable. Similar to the snack box, when getting ready to plan out your meals, give your children 3 vegetable options for each dinner and let them pick which one they would prefer. This gives them owness over the decision, but no matter how they choose, it is always a vegetable. This investment and control increases the likelihood they will eat the vegetable at the meal.
- Sneak in veggies. Vegetables have the most nutritional value and the least amount of calories per serving. The more of them you can incorporate into LITERALLY ANYTHING you eat, the less calories and more nutrition it will contain. You can do this in many ways. Examples include adding handfulls of spinach to smoothies, soups, scrambled eggs or quesadillas. Ues vegetable sticks or coins in place of chips or crackers with dips, guacamole, salsa, and cheese. Heat up frozen vegetables in pasta sauce, casseroles, macaroni and cheese, stews, chilis, or stir-frys. Put hummus on sandwiches instead of mayo, or even add vegetables right on to sandwiches for crunch!
You might have noticed a recurring vegetable theme in the suggestions above. Though it is a step in the right direction to get vegetables into your children’s food without their buy-in, it is also important to note that “sneaking” will not help your children come to enjoy and select vegetables on their own. It is just as crucial for you to try new preparation methods, new options, or new pairings to get your children to enjoy vegetables as their own food group. For more individualized tips, or if you, or any member of your household, has nutrition concerns or questions please call (518) 462-6531 to schedule a free consultation! Also, please join us for a FREE virtual webinar: Eating Right on a Budget on Monday 7/13 at 12pm EST.
By: Alison Durand RDN, CDN, LDN