Understanding children, yourself, and the situation
According to recent research, 300 million people in the world are obese, even though obesity is one of the 10 most preventable health risks according to the World Health Organization. In the United States alone, 9 million kids six years and older are obese. This means that those kids have a large amount of extra body fat, not just a few extra pounds or baby fat that's still lingering. They are eating more calories than they burn.
Early Educators have cause to worry if the children in their care are at risk. How can you tell? Aide from their weight, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are they sedentary?
- Do they eat a lot of fast food or junk food high in fat, sugar and salt?
- Do they drink a lot of sodas or other sugary beverages?
If so they could be on their way to some serious health problems including extra stress on the joints, bones that break easily, breathing problems, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. On top of that, they usually suffer social and emotional problems that accompany being overweight.
Obesity isn't a genetic or physical problem as much as it is a lifestyle and health awareness issue. The key factors that can reduce and eliminate childhood obesity are increased physical activity, more healthful eating habits, and improved health education.
Here are tips for Early Educators and Parents
- When children beg for soda and junk food, just say no. Be kind and firm. Let kids have their feelings, and validate them. "It must be hard to watch other children eat junk food when you can't."
- Some parents may decide to let their children have junk food once a week and they may want it at another time, ask them "What is the rule on when we can have junk food?" If they keep begging, just listen and make no comments.
- For older children, respond to pleas for junk food by inviting them to explore the Internet or other resources with you or the parent to find information on why you are saying no.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
- Start involving children in learning about nutrition and the fat, sugar, and salt content in foods. Read labels and teach the children to do the same.
- Subscribe to magazines or add cookbooks to your literacy and home centers that specialize in healthy eating. Have cooking projects with your children at least once a week using recipes that are healthy.
- When out on the playground, take walks with the children or do physical activity like biking, tossing a ball, or jumping activities for at least 10 minutes each day.
- Avoid having screen time in the classroom and encourage parents to reduce screen time at home.
- Hand out healthy menus and influence parents to try these at home.
- Monitor portion sizes. Stick to the USDA CACFP recommendations.
- Never force children to eat or be a member of the "Clean Plate Club."
- Don't use food for rewards or punishment.
- Practice Family Style Meal Service in the classroom. Engage in conversations about the day, current events, or topics unrelated to how much someone is or is not eating.
- Keep pitchers of water with fresh fruit cut up in it for the children to drink.
- Serve fresh fruit, lean meat, and vegetables. Cut up the vegetables and serve them in a fun way to encourage children to eat them.
- Teach children about snacks and treats that are low in fat, like pretzels, yogurts, berries and fruit. When children accompany parents to the grocery store, encourage them to ask for these healthy items rather than unhealthy treats.
- Encourage parents to set up a candy day for their child and limit sugary treats to one day a week.
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children can learn how to have a sense of control over their bodies and the value of healthy eating and an active lifestyle. They can also learn that spending time as a family shopping, cooking, cleaning, exercising, or eating, can be a positive experience. Values are first formed in the family, so children are learning the value of family time.
Pointers for Early Educators
- You have a big influence in the children's health future by how you deal with food and exercise in the classroom. Think ahead instead of giving in to the short-term feel good of easily prepared foods and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Teachers are a huge influence in the child's life. Early Educators need to also take a look at themselves and determine if they are a good role model for health and fitness. Don't hesitate to get involved in healthier cooking and eating yourself. Enroll in a weight loss program or exercise group and discuss your achievements with the children.
- Avoid having conversations or treating weight problems with medication. Focus on nutrition and exercise as a way to benefit the yourself and the children.
- The choices children make can last a lifetime, so it is up to you and the parent to take action to reverse an unhealthy trend for your children.