Data from 2017 indicated that 30% of children and youth (those aged 5-17) in Canada were considered overweight or obese. In a comparison between the provinces and territories, Alberta had the lowest percentage in the country at 21.8%; while this statistic is admirable, there is room for improvement.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of many cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, sleep apnea, myocardial infarction, and stroke. The Bogalusa Heart Study – a longitudinal study of cardiovascular risk factors – found that the foundation for adult cardiovascular disease is built in childhood, highlighting the importance of a preventative approach to childhood obesity.
The tools for preventing childhood obesity are simple: physical activity combined with a healthy diet, yet in practice, there seems to be a disconnect in implementing these fundamentals. The following strategies can form part of a family-based approach to promoting a healthier lifestyle, reducing the risk of childhood obesity
Family Meals and Healthy at Home Food Choices:
Children often learn their behaviours from parents and parental figures. “A practice what you preach” approach at home can be the first step in building healthy behaviours for your children.
- Stock fridge and cupboards with healthy foods and snacks (think nutrient-dense options, and avoid high-calorie, low-nutrition options)
- Eliminate sugary beverages
- Encourage water consumption
- Incorporate five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Have a regularly scheduled family mealtime
- Involve children in meal planning as appropriate
- Encourage “fullness recognition.” Don’t force children to clean their plates, and allow independence in portion selection
- Limit fast food
- Have patience when introducing a new food choice, as it can take multiple introductions before a child will “accept” a food
As per the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines, children should be getting at least one hour of physical activity per day
- Encourage outdoor play
- As a family, choose activities that promote physical activity (bike riding, ice skating, hiking)
- Enroll children in an organized sport or physical activity
Promoting Consistent Sleep Schedules
Research shows that a good night’s sleep can be preventative against type 2 diabetes, obesity, attention deficit, and other behavioral issues in children
- Set a consistent “bedtime” each night, including weekends
- Implement a bedtime routine that helps children wind down before bed
- Turn off screens one hour before bedtime
Limiting Screen Time
- Encourage reading
- Make children’s bedrooms TV free
- Set time limits on devices
- Plan play dates
- Plan activities that encourage movement
Given the known negative impacts of childhood obesity on health, well-being, and longevity, it is imperative that we take action to reduce known risk factors. Implementing some of the simple strategies mentioned above can have long-lasting impacts on our children’s future.