By: Issy Lovett

Obesity is a problem for millions of adults in the U.S., but it also affects around 13.7 (18.5%) of children. Being overweight or obese poses many long-term effects on health. One December 2019 study by researchers at the University of Vermont, for instance, found that obesity could affect brain development in children. Obese children have a thinner prefrontal cortex than children with a normal weight. Another (2018) study showed that early life obesity impacts children’s memory and learning. It is vital for kids to stay at a healthy weight, yet for lasting results, moderation and real expectations are key. Also key is involving children in meal preparation.

Good Reasons To Be Positive

Rather than putting an overweight child on a strict diet that cannot be sustained, taking a realistic approach to diet and exercise is key – as found by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Their study showed that even children who are genetically predisposed to weight gain can successfully shed pounds by adopting sensible eating and exercise habits. The children involved in the study adopted a few behavioral lifestyle changes – including eating a generally healthier diet, lowering their consumption of sugary and unhealthy snacks, and taking part in physical activity.

Are All Treats A No-No?

In general, a calorie-controlled diet that follows the general tenets of the Mediterranean diet (comprising of lean proteins, pulses, fruits and vegetables in controlled portions) can help children lose weight. It is important to avoid letting children believe they will have to starve, severely restrict what they eat, or avoid all their favorite foods. Healthy snacks abound – including fresh fruit slices, crudites and chocolate. Opt for dark, raw chocolate if you can. This food is high in antioxidants. Chocolate can help boost heart health when consumed in moderation, as found in a study published in The FASEB Journal. Dark chocolate takes less than half an hour to make at home, so why not do so with your kids this weekend? All you need is a handful of ingredients, including raw cacao, cocoa butter, and nuts and dried fruit if you wish.

Building A Positive Body Image

In order to stop the obesity epidemic in children, scientists at the American Psychological Association say that parents should begin by helping their kids to construct a positive body image. This is the case because bad eating habits can begin with emotional or stress-related eating. This in turn can lead to weight gain/obesity and/or an eating disorder. The researchers recommend that parents include children in cooking/food preparation, asking them to help prepare dishes with ingredients they are unfamiliar with. This will open their palates to new, healthy flavors, and enable them to appreciate the experience of preparing and enjoying home-cooked meals.

Embracing Technology To Teach Kids About Healthy Diets

Video games are sometimes seen as ‘the enemy’ of a healthy, active lifestyle for children, but a group of designers has decided to embrace the adage, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,’ with great success. This team was created a 10-episode game called Squire’s Quest! II, which suggests behavioral changes (such as goal setting). It also gives information about healthy foods and teaches patterns for how and when to eat fruits and vegetables. The game additionally has a ‘virtual kitchen’ where children can learn a host of healthy recipes for vegetable wraps, low-sugar smoothies and other healthy treats, so they can prepare these foods later with their parents. These recipes can teach kids that preparing healthy meals is easy, fun and very satisfying in terms of the resulting flavors and textures.

There are so many ways to encourage children to eat healthily, including inviting them into the kitchen, preparing them a host of healthy snacks, and encouraging them to play educational video games. The stricter a diet is, the harder it will be to stick to it. Therefore, a tasty yet nutritious Mediterranean-style diet may be your best best. Make sure to include occasional snacks and treats, so kids never feel like they are being deprived of the things they love. Finally, don’t forget the power of gaming and online resources to help boost a child’s nutritional awareness.

Issy Lovett is a full time mom to two girls and a busy writer. She is trying to instill a love of gardening and growing your own produce into her children, and often has them in the kitchen with her to help prep meals and learn about the joys of cooking. 

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