By Dr. J. Renae Norton
Physical fitness is necessary but not sufficient for good health, especially with the current health crisis that we are facing.
So before we talk about how to get your child off the couch, we need to address the issue of childhood obesity in the context of COVID-19. Currently in the United States we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity, especially among children. This is a particularly upsetting situation, in view of the fact that COVID-19 is more likely to occur in individuals with extra adipose tissue.
In other words, for whatever reason, COVID-19 has an affinity for fat.
Even though children seem less likely at this point to contract the virus, there are examples of a rare and very dangerous form of the virus (PIMS) that is attacking only children. And when it does, it’s more likely to attack children that are overweight.
Despite the fact that obesity rates for children from ages 2 to 4 have come down from 15.9% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016 according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the fastest growing age group when it comes to obesity in the U.S., is still children from 2-5 years of age.
The researchers postulated that the reason obesity rates have come down during that period, was that fewer children in that age range were drinking soft drinks than previously. Soft drinks contain one ingredient that is especially dangerous, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS.) So, eliminating soft drinks is really going to help.
That said, HFCS is still in almost every other processed food, including many baby formulas. It is a neurotoxin that damages the receptors of the hormone that regulates eating behavior. It has been shown to increase abdominal fat and triglycerides. It contributes to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes. It also contributes to hypertension, fatty liver disease, and gout. Bad stuff, very bad stuff. But there are many other bad things in the U.S. food supply including carcinogens, obesogens and allergens. The safest food is food that is 100% organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, and had a mom or came out of the ground (preferably recently.)
Being obese as a child is difficult. Many of my patients with eating disorders started out as overweight children. Having cancer, type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome by the time you are 15 just makes a bad situation worse.
Whether we focus on the damaged food or the sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese is more and more of a problem. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of overweight children 2-5 years of age has doubled, with one in four preschoolers’ being overweight or at risk for obesity. Fifty percent of these children will become obese adults. Prevention requires reaching children before the age of 6 and providing them with the cleanest food you can afford as well as lots of activities that keep them moving.
So let’s start by feeding our youngsters healthy foods.
Then the challenge, especially with our current circumstances, in which we are staying home more, is to keep them active.
Here are a few tips to help your child be more active. Organized sports are great, but many children are not allowed to participate in organized sports currently. Even if they were, not all children are comfortable with competitive activities or they just get burned out on them. That can turn them off to being physically active, sometimes for good.
There are lots of other activities your child may enjoy besides organized sports. Your best bet is to lead by example and keep it simple. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to keep your child active, but it may require some creativity and it does take time. For busy parents, that means making the most of every opportunity. For example, little children love to help with things like vacuuming or gardening. It won’t be as efficient, but it teaches them good habits and gets them off the couch.
Probably the single most important thing that you can do is limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, and/or with electronic devices such as tablets, phones or computers. These devices keep your child absorbed for long periods of time during which there is no physical activity. There is a growing body of research suggesting that the over use of electronics compromises neurological development and can lead to sleep disturbances, excessive aggression and even wrist, neck and back injury.
And of course, we know that the lack of activity is another key factor in the increased incidence of obesity.
Here are some other activities that may interest your child:
• Riding a bike – ride with them if you can. The best thing you can do is set an example!
• Climbing on a jungle gym – If you don’t have one, they are in almost every park today.
• Jumping rope – this can even be done in-doors if you have a basement.
• Playing hopscotch – can also be done indoors on a foam version of this old time favorite.
• Bouncing a ball, throwing a ball, hitting a ball…children love balls!
• Dancing – my grandsons (a 3 year old and a 14 month old) become hysterical when we dance together. We can do it on and off for hours to the beat of pop music. We even “seat dance” during long car rides. You can teach a 2 year old to “raise the roof” which provides more exercise than you might think.
• Shooting hoops – you can now get back-boards that are adjustable for younger children and simply grow with them. If that isn’t in the budget, many parks have hoops, just bring your own basketball.
• A trampoline – either an in-door or an out-door version, is a great way for kids and their parents to get exercise in a confined space.
• Hiking is a great family activity – or barring a convenient place to hike, walk with your child to a nearby store instead of driving.
In general, the more fun it is, the more likely they are to engage. For example, little children love running through water sprinklers, even the ones who do not enjoy swimming. Plus there isn’t nearly as much chlorine as in a public pool. They can get plenty of exercise at a water-playground, which more and more parks have instead of pools. Or you can purchase an attachment for your backyard hose that many children find delightful.
Maybe your child does not like organized sports such as basketball, soccer, softball or tennis. Let him or her kick the soccer ball around in the park or hit a tennis ball against the garage or play a game of PIG with you at a local park. Parents tend to lose sight of why children need sports in their life. They need the exercise. Yes, they need to learn self-discipline and sportsmanship and how to be a part of a team, but too often the pressure to be great at all of these things backfires and the child’s self-image is damaged.
Some children turn to food as a way of compensating for low self-esteem. This is not nearly as dangerous if the food is clean then it is if the food is polluted. That’s where we really see the damage taking place, with the foods containing neurotoxins like high fructose corn syrup that are also addicting.
Other children decide that they are inadequate when it comes to sports and refuse to engage in any physical activities as teenagers and young adults. The idea, especially for little children, is for them to have fun using their bodies and being creative when it comes to entertaining themselves.
If you are a city dweller and your child does not have access to a soccer field, but you live on a street where there isn’t much traffic, help the neighborhood children organize a street ball or sand lot game. Children learn a lot about cooperation and teamwork when they are the ones responsible for organizing their free time.
This is all easier if you start them off on the right foot, i.e. when they are very small. But don’t worry if you haven’t. There is no time like the present. Start slow and keep trying. You couldn’t make a better investment in your child’s health and well-being!
If you would like guidance on raising a happy healthy child please reach out to The Norton Wellness Institute directly at 513-205-6543! Start today and give your children a better tomorrow!
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Materials contained on this site are made available solely for educational purposes and as part of an effort to raise general awareness of the psychological treatments available to individuals with health issues. These materials are not intended to be, and are not a substitute for, direct professional medical or psychological care based on your individual condition and circumstances. Dr. J. Renae Norton does not diagnose or treat medical conditions. While this site may contain descriptions of pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological treatments, such descriptions and any related materials should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem without consulting a qualified mental health care provider. You are advised to consult your medical health provider about your personal questions or concerns.