For a brief moment, we believed that childhood obesity was finally declining.
New research suggests that was a statistical blip as the trend of rising childhood obesity rates marches forward.
The journal Pediatrics just published a study that found that childhood obesity rates have seen their worst increase since 1999. And that’s for children aged 2 to 5.
Longtime readers of the Habits of Health can already picture what those numbers mean, but for those of you who may be new, here’s the short version: We know that obesity is a strong predicator for a wide range of health problems and diseases. Your risk of diabetes and heart disease increases exponentially (for example), and your likelihood of realizing your longevity potential (living a long vibrant life) is typically cut down early.
If an individual’s battle with obesity begins as young as 2 years-old, the health challenges and consequences they will face are likely to come early and often. When they have the maturity to realize that they have spent a lifetime building Habits of Disease, they will have to undo decades of habit-building lifestyle choices.
Experts suggest that the childhood obesity problem is complex and may be influenced by everything from television commercials to school lunch programs to the rise of food deserts (places where an option for healthy grocery shopping is not readily available). These are big challenges, to be sure, but the role that we play as role models for the children in our lives is also critically important.
We can help the children of tomorrow by making healthier choices in our lives today. Here are some places to start:
- Transform your own life. Children naturally look to the adults in their lives to be models for behavior. The choices you make influence how your children think about their own worlds. If you put yourself on the path to optimal wellbeing, your children are more likely to follow.
- Talk to your children about your health journey. As you practice and refine your Habits of Health, have a conversation with your family about why you are making these choices and what your goals are.
- Turn being active into a family event. When you go for a walk, take your children along, or perhaps play basketball or catch outside. On other occasions, perhaps you schedule family hiking adventures or share in active hobbies like martial arts or pick-up sports.
- Limit screen time. Tablets and phones are quick ways to occupy young children, but this quick solution might discourage them from being active instead. Encourage your children to read or to pick up more physical hobbies like playing with toys or some form of athletics.
- Rethink classic parenting advice. If you force your children to always “clean their plates” before they leave their dinner table or that the reward for doing something good is ice cream, you might be unintentionally building Habits of Disease.
From here, the roles we take as leaders in the optimal wellbeing movements will help us to transform our communities and eventually the world. We’ve helped thousands of people already, but our work isn’t done. Children truly are the future, and we should build that future out of Habits of Health so that they can enjoy the rewards of a healthy, vibrant life.