It’s no secret that obesity rates are rising, both for adults and their children. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, about a third of children and two thirds of adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
These statistics are astonishing, and in fact, a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that we may actually start to see a decline in life expectancy in the United States as a result of this rising obesity rate. This is because being overweight or obese isn’t just an issue with weight or appearance. Serious health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure have been associated with weight gain.By now you might be wondering: What’s causing this?
It’s many different things. Families are busy, making it difficult to plan, shop for and cook healthy meals at home. This leads to increased snacking and eating at restaurants, often fast food joints where you can grab a quick meal between activities. As portion sizes at these places have increased, so have the fat, sugar and salt content of their food.
In addition, families are spending more time on their cell phone and in front of the T.V., laptops or other electronic devices. Combined with decreased physical education at school and increased hours at work, this all leads to less physical activity and fewer opportunities to burn calories throughout the day.
What can we do about it?
Eating healthier as a family starts with being prepared. Taking time to plan meals and shop for the week ahead can make a world of difference. It can also cut down on impulse buys at the grocery store if you have a list with you. Look for meals that are simple and fast.
It’s also important to keep a stash of healthy snacks to make healthy choices easier when hungry. Someone actively trying to lose weight may want to consider prepared meal replacements, like Medifast, the brand recommended by over 20,000 doctors since 1980.
The following tips are a few other simple things you can do to improve your health:
Nowadays, people spend more time than ever sitting at desks and behind the wheel of their car. Kids spend time in school, with recess minutes declining to make time for more instruction. Homework and afterschool activities mean even less time spent outdoors playing. Taking more time to participate in physical activity and moving more can help increase the number of calories burned off each day.
While computers, cell phones and other gadgets are a necessity in today’s world, too much screen time has been shown to have a negative effect on the growth and development of children.
New recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under the age of 18 months not be exposed to screens at all and older children spend no more than two hours a day on electronic devices, and that content should be of high quality and ideally viewed with their parents.
Simply cutting out screen time isn’t enough; families need to move more. Regular exercise has many benefits, including weight reduction, strengthening bones and muscles and preventing several chronic health problems.
Current recommendations are for children and teens to get at least 300 minutes of physical activity each week, and adults to get at least 150 minutes a week. Playing outside, participating in a sports league or even just taking a walk after dinner are all great options for logging those minutes.
Making healthy lifestyle changes is great for the whole family to do together. There are many ways to do this that can involve the entire family and bring everyone together.
1. Plan and cook meals together. Here are some specific strategies for getting everyone involved:
2. Prioritize family meals. Families who regularly ate meals together were more likely to report positive communication among family members. Family members were also more likely to be involved in school, be motivated and excited for the future and have a positive self-identity (Paredes, Persaud & Shelnutt,).
3. Make family outings more active. Some ideas: try a rock climbing gym, ride bikes together, find local hikes, play a sport together, visit a trampoline park (make sure everyone jumps!) or hit the pool or beach for a swim.
4. Take little steps for big results. There are lots of little changes that can be made throughout the day to help you be more active:
5. Sleep! Healthcare professionals know that poor sleep quality can lead to increased caloric intake, poor cognitive skills and other health problems. Taking time to rest and recover is just as important as the physical activity.
Making a commitment to get healthier doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. In fact, getting the whole family involved sets everyone up for success, both with physical health and a better family connection.