It is important to remember all the things every family can do to promote healthy diets and good levels of physical activity, and to prevent or reverse obesity.
There are some new studies and guidelines that reinforce the importance of good eating and activity habits for children of all ages, and that clearly demonstrate that what families do with their children at all ages throughout childhood has a life-long impact on eating patterns, exercise habits, and health.
The good news is that childhood obesity is on the decline nationally and in Florida. The bad news is that 17%, or 12.5 million children, are still obese. This breaks down into 8.4% of 2-5 year olds, 17.7% of 6-11 year olds, and 20.5% of 12-19 year olds. 22.4% of Hispanic, 20.2% of African-American, and 8.6% of non-Hispanic White youth are obese.
In the Special Turku Coronary Risk Factor Intervention Project for Children, repeated dietary counseling stressing increased fruit and vegetables, and lower saturated fat and sugar diets, was given to families and children beginning in the first year of life and continued periodically throughout childhood. Compared to children from families who did not receive such counseling, children from families who received the repeated counseling in healthy diets, had healthier diets, had better cholesterol levels, had significantly more good health habits, and had healthier arteries by multiple measures as young adults. This carefully done, large, 20+ year study of children and families has conclusively demonstrated that lower total and saturated fat diets are safe in children, that recent additional recommendations for increased fruit and vegetables and less sugar can be accomplished and sustained over many years and into adulthood in children of all ages, and that following these recommendations causes important long-term improvements in health.
Current dietary guidelines for children over age 1 include offering a variety of nutrient but not calorie dense foods from the basic food groups (fruits/vegetables, milk/milk products, grains, meat/protein), and avoiding salt, sugar, and sweeteners.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fat free milk products (after 2 years of age, 2% milk products at age 1-2), whole grains, and low fat sources of protein such as beans, fish, skinless poultry, and lean pork/beef is considered optimal.
Juice should be 100% fruit juice and should be limited to <4 oz/d under age 1, 4 oz/d age 1-10, and 6 oz/d ages 11 and up. Fluids should be fat free milk or unflavored water. Avoid all sugar added drinks. Avoid all trans fats. Limit sodium and salt. Limit sugar, white rice, pasta, and non-whole grain bread. Teach portion size based on activity level, age, and increase for periods of rapid growth or increased exercise/activity.
Encourage healthy eating habits: breakfast every day, eating meals as a family, limiting fast food meals. Schools should be encouraged to not make sugar drinks and fast foods available on school grounds but instead to offer salad bars and increased access to free water.
Regular, vigorous activity is equally important to health and well-being, and such habits started in childhood tend to have a life-long effect.
Current activity recommendations call for a family environment which promotes and models physical activity and limits sedentary time.
Children under age 5 should have unlimited playtime in a safe, supportive environment. At 5 and older there should be at least 1h/d of moderate to vigorous activity such as jogging or baseball, with 3d/wk being vigorous activity such as running, soccer, or tennis.
There should be no TV in the bedroom, and total TV/screen time should be limited to 1-2h/d of quality programming. There should be family physical activity once per week. Encourage involvement in year-round, lifelong physical activities.
Using each of these things can contribute to your childs health and well-being, and together we can continue the decline in childhood obesity and improve the health of all of Volusia Counties families.