Understanding And Preventing Obesity In Our Kids

Pillar One: Love And Accept Your Children As They Are You must affirm and confirm your children, no matter what their weight may be. This is not about conditional love or pressuring our kids to measure up to our own standards or preconceptions. Never be critical or hostile about your child’s weight or you will crush their tender spirits. Their physical appearance to you as a parent is of course not the issue. How they look should almost be irrelevant to you. Your desire is for them to live long, healthy, productive and fulfilling lives. This may seem like such common sense but as a practicing physician I have observed parents both in my office as well as out in the community who seem to forget at times the need our children have for our unconditional love and acceptance.Pillar Two: Remember That You Are The Parent! Your Child’s Health Is Your Responsibility Please allow me to put on my white lab coat for a moment and speak a little tough love. Listen, kids are your responsibility. You are your kid's mom, your kid's dad. Don't let Saturday morning cartoons have more influence over your children than you do. There is a tug of war going on today for your children's hearts and attention in various directions, and you have to step up to the plate and take the position of influence and privilege that you have as their parent. From supervising and ensuring the timely and consistent use of their medication to influencing the choices and quantity of the time they spend in front of a computer or television, having your appropriate influence as their parent is your responsibility. If you have excuses and rationalizations about your inability to provide them the loving supervision and direction they need as your children, what can you expect of them? This is not about imposing or manipulating your kids but rather lovingly and wisely being in a position and taking the required steps to positively influence their behavior and choices. Pillar Three: Fill The Fridge And Cupboards With The Right Stuff Kids have a way of eating what's inside the refrigerator and the cupboards. What are you filling your shopping carts with? Treats wrapped in plastic? Aluminum cans filled with sugary sodas? Cartons of artery-clogging fat and sugar packed ice cream? Frozen pizzas? I'm not suggesting that you have to shop at a health food store or fill the fridge with brussels sprouts and tofu but having a wide assortment of healthy food available is a must. Just recently it was announced that Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob and the Tasmanian Devil are coming to a produce aisle near you. These and other characters will soon be found on fruit and vegetable packaging across the country as farmers arrange deals with entertainment companies that are eager to cultivate positive images among health-conscious families like yours. These are exciting and long overdue moves in the right direction as society collectively is coming around to slowly realize the role and responsibility it has in this whole issue. Kids are born to snack so consider peeling and slicing various kinds of produce, thereby making a healthy snack readily available and convenient for them to eat. Consider making your home a no-soda zone. Kids are also just like adults in that food tastes better when they're hungry. Snacks should be snacks and not extra meals that are packed with calories. If they are not overfed on snacks, at meal times they are more likely to eat healthier and nutritious food. Pillar Four: Replace Fast-Food Forays With Home-Based Meals Considering the realities of our hectic modern day lives, I know this is a tough one. I'm not suggesting that you and your family abstain from fast food or eating out for the rest of your lives, but I am asking you to consider striking an appropriate balance. Many times ending up at a restaurant may be the outcome of inadequate parental planning or preparation. In our last minute tendencies, if time is short and the fridge is empty or you are too tired to cook, the fast food restaurant on the corner might feel like your only option. From strategic use of leftovers to ready-to-go food in the freezer to making food prep part of the collective daily family routine, somehow we need to find more time to sit down and eat healthy meals together at home. Asking your children to help out with meal preparation will give them an appreciation of different food and for the effort it takes to serve healthy and delicious meals. There are now some restaurants that are starting to promote healthy and affordable family style "home-cooked" meal options to go. Meals eaten together can actually promote family togetherness, foster communication and have a remarkable impact on children. Social research studies have even shown added benefit in that teenagers who eat with their parents regularly are less likely to do drugs or be depressed and are more likely to be motivated students. Pillar Five: Food Is Nutrition — Not An Incentive Program, A Form Of Punishment, A Reward For Doing Something Good Or A Way Of Showing Love This principle was one of the most important in terms of my own personal journey and healthy transformation. I used to eat food for all the wrong reasons. Food is fuel and while there is also an important cultural and lifestyle component to it, we should try to not use food for reasons other that what it's primarily intended for. Parents play a critical role in creating an environment where food is not used inappropriately. I know there is not a parent alive who hasn't "treated" their children with an ice cream cone as a treat or reward. But that should be the exception and not the daily routine for completing homework or the daily chores. As parents we need to ensure that we don't establish a tendency or behavioral habits in our children where they over rely on food to satisfy needs that go beyond the primary nutritional purpose of food. Food is nutrition. It is not a reward, a companion or a way to deal with our pain, loneliness or boredom, and parents have to be deliberate about both modeling and implementing that reality. Try to limit rewarding good behavior or punishing inappropriate behavior by using food as the tool. These are patterns of behavior that will last a lifetime. Pillar Six: Regular Physical Activity Is An Absolute Must The lack of physical activity is a significant contributor to children being overweight and out of shape. For as complex as this whole issue is, on the other hand it's really a very simple dilemma. Calories consumed need to balance the calories spent. When we consume more calories than we burn, we add extra weight in our body's fuel storage tank of fat. In order to lose extra weight we simply have to burn off more calories than we put into our bodies. While most of our attention to this point has been on strategies to control the calories consumed making sure that our children are burning the appropriate amount of energy is just as important. In the not too distant past, physical activity was a much more regular part of the typical child's life. Whether it was routine physical education classes at school or time spent playing outside after school and on the weekends, life has certainly changed. Our children are not nearly as active, and many schools have had to cut back on physical education and after school programs. There are also the realities that many urban neighborhoods are unsafe for walking or not conducive to the kinds of physical activity that so many of us participated in as a natural part of our lives in the "good-ole" days. Add to this equation the explosion of screen time that kids spend in front of televisions, computers and video games, and you have the recipe for our current physical inactivity disaster. Getting off the couch and helping our kids get exercise by making activity fun is an essential parental role. Setting limits on sedentary activities like screen time may be a painful but necessary intervention. I don't believe that the "one-size fits all" approach is appropriate, but most professionals strongly suggest that screen time be limited to less than 60 to 90 minutes a day. Making physical activity fun and giving it a positive spin is a critical part of getting kids to be active on a regular basis. Taking them to a gym and throwing them on a treadmill as they stare at a blank wall is unlikely to be a realistic and sustainable strategy. Finding ways of encouraging kids to play hard while doing fun things for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day would be wonderful and very beneficial. From making vacations physically active to walking rather than driving to getting a dog that will drag you around on a leash, there are many ways of creating the association between fun and physical exertion. Pillar Seven: You Have To Model It — "Do As I Say AND As I Do!" There is no room for us as parents to consistently say one thing and do another. Not only is our credibility on the line. but more importantly, how can we expect something from our kids that we are not willing to commit to ourselves? This is not to say that the perfection of a healthy parental lifestyle is required, but for the most part, we have to live by the principles that we are trying to instill into our kids. I can't tell you how many times I have seen parents dragging their kids in to see me and asking for help with modifying their child's behavior when I had to bite my tongue instead of asking the parent if they've looked in the mirror recently. Trust me, it's an issue that gets addressed but not in a way that undermines parental credibility and authority as I am tempted to do right then and there in the exam room. As a parent, I am eager for my child to experience the most that life has to offer. I am no longer depriving myself of healthy living by consuming an abundance of calories while I waste away on the couch. I am also eager to do everything I can to ensure my child will thrive, be vibrant and get the most out of life herself. I don't want to deprive her of having me around as long as possible, so in many ways my own personal journey now is one motivated by love. Part of my intent in working to maintain my health and fitness is to be all that I can be as her daddy. So while I demonstrate my love by the way I care for my own body, I also am eager to help provide her with an environment and upbringing that will help ensure her own healthy state of body, mind and spirit. While there are no guarantees and unexpected health issues can always occur, as a parent I want to do all I can to live life in a way that sets the right tone and example. I love being healthy and am eager to ensure that my child has that same opportunity. It's about walking the talk. In order for your children to be healthy, you have to have a healthy family. You have to be a healthy parent by setting a healthy example. You too can then proclaim with enthusiasm and integrity, "Do as I say, and as I do!"

Dr. Nicholas Yphantides

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Dr. Nicholas Yphantides

Dr. Nicholas Yphantides serves as the Consulting Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County and is the National Director for Health & Wellness with Axene Health Partners. He is a cancer survivor and is an advocate for those in his community who need it the most. For nine years, Dr. Nick served as Chief Medical Officer of one the largest network of Community Clinics in San Diego County.

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