The statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
The number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled over the last 20 years -- from 7% in 1980 to 18.8% in 2004. The number of overweight teenagers (ages 12 to 19) has more than tripled, increasing from 5% to 17.1%. About 61% of overweight youngsters have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, including high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Overweight children are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems (stigmatization and poor self-esteem). Overweight children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, placing them at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.
With all of this bad news, I'm happy to report that eating natural and organic food can help prevent your child from becoming one of America's health statistics. The prescription for change is relatively simple: Replace heavily processed supermarket brands with fresh produce and organic food, and adopt organic living strategies that encourage your children to get moving.
Eat at Home
Eating out is one of the major contributors to childhood obesity, and you'll serve your family well if you make a resolution to prepare home-cooked meals with organic ingredients.
"It's not uncommon for parents to feel that they're just too busy to prepare home-cooked meals, especially after a long, exhausting day at work. As a result, they often succumb to 'takeout syndrome,' " says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a preventive health specialist and author of Healthy Lunchbox: A Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim. She recently commissioned a national survey of 1,000 moms, which revealed that children are 25% less likely to be overweight if a parent participates in meal preparation.
"There's no doubt that fast food is convenient, but at this point we can't afford to sacrifice our children's health and well-being for the sake of convenience," Dr. McAllister tells Organic Authority. "Currently, roughly a third of American children are overweight or obese, and according to a recent report in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, approximately half of American children are expected to be overweight by 2010. In addition to lack of sufficient physical activity, consumption of fast food and junk food plays a significant role in promoting overweight and obesity in American children. In light of these facts, parents need to regain control of their kids' eating habits and avoid the drive-through window as often as possible."
Meals on Wheels
There are simple solutions to "dashboard dining," Dr. McAllister says.
"When you're driving kids to and from soccer games and dance lessons, make sure that you're armed with snacks and drinks," she says. "Keep a cooler in the car, and fill it with bottled water, dried fruit, yogurt and spoons, cut-up fruits and veggies, and other nutritious snacks so that you aren't tempted to visit the drive-through window at your favorite fast-food restaurant."
Nutritionist Gayl Canfield, PhD, of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Aventura, Florida, is also a firm believer in "rabbit bags," which can be filled with organic vegetables and snacks. Simply place raw carrots, cauliflower, orange wedges and apple slices in a snack-size plastic bag.
"The orange gives everything a nice flavor and aroma, and it helps keep the apple slices from turning too brown," she tells Organic Authority. "No time to slice up veggies? Available in many markets now are little single-serving bags of sweet baby carrots -- peeled, washed and ready to toss in your child's lunchbox. How easy! If your kids like dips for their veggies, pack a little container of bean dip, hummus or salsa."
Finally, be sure to make exercise a family affair.
"The best way for parents to motivate kids to get moving is for parents to get moving themselves," Dr. Canfield says. "What good are homilies about the benefits of exercise if we sit on the bleachers while our kids run around the soccer field? While they're at practice, take off for a nice 45-minute walk around the park. And as much as your middle-aged body will allow, make their exercise your exercise, from skiing to bike riding to, yes, even skateboarding!"