Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Can you keep a child from becoming obese?

Every day I keep hearing things about children and obesity. I hear about the push at schools to rid the cafeterias of vending machines that sell sodas and juices and dessert lines where kids can buy ice cream and the like.

And it is true that there are more overweight kids than ever before and it's becoming a world-wide problem. This summer, I saw more overweight European children than I have ever seen before and it was shocking. How can this be when kids move all the time?

Ah... do they move all the time? Today? No... they do not. But, that's a whole 'nother post in itself, but it definitely is adding to the obesity problem with youth today.

I look around at my younger son's classroom and other like grade classrooms and there are only 1-2 kids out of 50 that are slightly chubby. One is fairly significantly chubby (and she has been since I got to know her in kindergarten) and the second child is my own son. Though, he is on the borderline, better watch it, line. So, that is about the same number of kids with issues as it was when I was a kid. And when I say borderline, I mean borderline. Here is is this past summer: (and he's the same now and always):

Now, when I look at the high school kids when I drop off or pick up my teenaged son from school, I see a lot more heavier teens than when I was in high school. Girls especially. When I was in high school, I was one of the few that was slightly overweight. Now there are many and they are more overweight at younger ages.

So, yes, I agree it is happening and it is alarming. But what to do about it and can you do much about it?

With my two boys, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum with weight. My 16 year old son has always been thin. He is 6'2" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The pediatrician is watchful for him about getting too thin. She has told us to let him eat whatever and whenever he wants. He just needs to eat. We used to think it was the ADHD drugs that were keeping him thin, but he was thin before taking them and he's just as thin off of them. It's just his tendency. We have to press the issue to eat breakfast, to eat lunch and to eat an adequate dinner. Now, at 10 pm he'll go crazy with eating snacks and he tends to want garbage, so I try to temper that too, but at some point, he just needs calories for the day and some FAT as he likes very lean foods for the day and he still needs an adequate fat intake (and protein). Yes, he's the teen boy who loves salads and veggies and is not so keen on meat and other proteins.

Here is with wild hair this past summer. It's now long enough to wear in a pony tail (which he does always):

My nearly 8 year old son is the opposite. He's not heavy, but he has a tendency to get pudgy. The pediatrician is a bit watchful of him and too much weight gain. With him I try to temper the sweets and calorie dense foods that don't give him any nutritional value. Fortunately, he too is developing a real love for veggies and lean proteins, but his tendency is to eat a bit more than he needs. This I have to temper that with foods that are filling, but not calorie dense.

So, same household. Same parents of both kids and two kids with vastly different tendencies and needs. They might look alike as they both have copper colored, wavy hair and brown eyes and are tall. They are just separated by nearly 9 years; however, they have been night and day in nearly everything since birth and their weight tendencies are one of them.

It is hard to control food intake with children as how do you know how much they need? Are they having a growth spurt? Or are they just overeating? Are they really hungry or just think they are hungry?

Plus, I have read on weight loss forums of parents trying to help their kids with weight and it just backfires. Kids will find the M&Ms hidden and will then scarf them down, hiding it. Thus developing  the hiding of food tendencies early on. Or, when they get a bit older and have pocket change, spending that money on junk food they can't get at home.

My very fit and athletic physical therapist, now in his late 30s said that he grew up in a home where his father especially was the food police. He couldn't have anything. Then, when he got to college, he went crazy. He ate all the foods that were forbidden and gained 50 pounds on his small frame and short stature. He said it took him until he was in his late 20s to start realizing that he felt like crap and looked like crap and wanted to change. He said that now, ironically, he eats almost no junk, just like his dad wanted him to eat, but growing up he fought it and would sneak food at friends' houses, etc. And his story is not an isolated incident.

So what to do?

Well, what we've tried to do (and we are getting better and better about it) is to model good behavior about moderation and about movement. We always have good snacks in the house as well as not so good snacks. There is always fruit and easy to eat raw, veggies and snacks like nuts. We eat all our meals at home or packed from home. We sit together at meal times - always. And we don't make desserts part of the meal. They are for special occasions.

And we move. We take walks, we shovel our own driveway, mow our yard and do our own landscaping/gardening. We go to the gym, to the pool and ride bikes. A family day out is almost always a day spent doing something active (even when I was really fat this was true). We never take the day to go shopping, go to some food fair, etc. We're more likely to go hiking somewhere or the like.

Here are a couple family shots from this summer at a hike:

Our hope, is that they will grow up liking the taste of vegetables and proteins and to know that grains and simple sugars are not to be the staple of the diet. We hope that they will love to move and do things outdoors and won't be drawn to sitting in the movie theater eating junk food for 2 hours straight. As yes, when we 'do' see a movie, we never, ever get food to eat while watching.

I hope they learn, especially as they see me struggle with my weight, that I still enjoy my food, but that I tend to gain weight easily and I need to watch my portions, but I use exercise to help me maintain my weight too. I never, ever say, "I'm fat" in front of them. I never, ever criticize their size or other people's sizes and I try not to make it an issue of thin people are good and fat people are bad.  For me, I hope they see and realize, it's all about health, not about looks.

And I hope I never get preachy with them if they ever struggle with food or weight or lack of fitness. Our skinny teen likes to sit and do nothing - all. the. time. So, we do push him to be more active, but not in a punitive way or at least I hope that's what we're doing. My nearly 8 year old still bounces all over the place and we encourage it, not discourage it. We walk to and from  school whenever time and weather allows. We have ACTIVE Wii games (nothing where you sit and watch and twiddle thumbs). We take him to the gym with us where he can jump and have fun too. And he's always sweaty when we pick him up after an hour. And instead of offering him a calorie dense snack he loves when he's hungry, we try to offer him a filling. calorie light snack he loves, but he still gets his cookies and stuff too.

We're not perfect and we make mistakes and perhaps one day when they're older one or both of them will ask, "So, why did you let me eat cookies at all?" or, "Why did you force me to do X, Y or Z?" That just made me X... Who knows... but what I do know is that it's not so simple to control a child's weight as it might appear. Just as, how would you feel as an adult if someone told you you couldn't eat X, Y, or Z and had to eat A, B and C? and had to do THIS exercise at THIS time and so on. Can you see how you might try to circumvent the dictator? Well, why would a kid do differently?

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