Did you know that millions of Canadian kids are overweight or obese. It's time to get them up and into a healthier lifestyle.

In this article:

Why are our kids getting fat?
So kids are fatter-- does it really matter?
What should you do?
What happens when it's gone too far?
What are the schools doing to help?
Conclusion

Why are our kids getting fat?

Like their parents, North American children have become too sedentary. In fact, Canada's Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth - 2007 released by Active Healthy Kids Canada gave our kids a D. It found that:

  • Inactivity significantly worsens as children grow older, and teenagers, especially teen girls, are less active now than they ever have been.
  • Children and youth report spending twice as much time in front of a screen as they do engaged in physical activity.
  • Decreases in physical activity and increases in screen time are not only contributing to increases in overweight and obesity, but are now also associated with increasing reports of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

So kids are fatter-- does it really matter?

Here are the facts:

  • According to the New England Journal of Medicine, kids who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of developing heart disease as adults-- even if they lose the weight in adulthood.
  • Children are now being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes-- a disease linked to obesity and previously only found in middle-aged adults. Type 2 diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, amputation, kidney disease and sexual dysfunction. Look in the video section for a "Your Health" segment on Type 2 Diabetes in kids.
  • Kids who are obese are at greater risk of developing arthritis at a very young age. Due to too little milk, sunshine and exercise kids are developing diseases like osteoporosis and even rickets- a disease rampant in the 19th century.
  • Kids who are overweight are prone to depression and body image issues.
  • Because of the growing incidence of obesity in kids, the children in each successive generation could be sicker than their parents.

So a little extra weight on our kids can have long-term consequences- even in generations to come.

What should you do?

Kids who are active are happier and healthier. But getting the kids off the couch can be hard, especially if their parents are sitting right beside them. So start with yourself.

Nobody likes change, so don't suddenly force your kids to eat rice cakes and sprouts. Make gradual changes in your diet by cooking your own meals together and limiting fast food runs. You are in charge of the food in the house, so if you don't buy it, they can't eat it- and neither can you.

One of the best ways to help your family get up and go is to make family time fitness time. "If you can combine the benefits of exercise with quality time with your kids, then you're getting the best use of your time," says Sarah Miller, mother of two and a personal trainer based in Oakville, Ontario. When you're active together, everyone's health will benefit, you'll share some special time with your children and you'll provide a good role model, letting your child know that exercise is important in everyone's life.

We have some hints on what to do during the winter months. Or, while you're out and about, why not go to a Don't Sit Still show with the TVOKids hosts? Look for a show near you.

In their book, The Overweight Child: Promoting Fitness and Self Esteem, authors Teresa Pitman and Miriam Kaufman offer some strategies to encourage your kids to get up and go:

When they say: "I want to watch my show"...

...Try: "Television is off-limits to all of us." Set a good example and watch less TV yourself. The kids may even follow your lead! Instead of everyone flopping on the couch after dinner, go outside.

When they say: "I'm too tired"...

...Tell them: "Exercise and eating well can boost your energy."
Children who don't eat a proper diet and get enough exercise have lower energy levels. Set a good example by giving your family a well-balanced diet that includes the four basic food groups. Avoid fatty, sugary, processed foods that add empty calories.

But what happens when it's gone too far? How can you tell your child’s weight is a problem?
(Below come courtesy of: Get a Healthy Weight for Your Child: A Parent's guide to Better Eating and Exercise, by Dr. Brian McCrindle and James Wengle. The Hospital for Sick Children: Toronto)

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it may be a clue your child's weight is causing physical and emotional problems and you should seek professional help:

  1. Does your child move slowly from place to place?
  2. Does your child shy away from or avoid most physical activities?
  3. Does your child have difficulty keeping up with friends during physical activity?
  4. Does your child seem to breathe more heavily or get short of breath more easily than their friends during physical activity?
  5. Does your child seem to sweat a lot or more easily than other children during physical activity?
  6. Does your child become extremely flushed or "red in the face" during physical activity?
  7. Is your child overweight and becoming distanced from social activities or from activities once enjoyed?
  8. Has your child been expressing any unusual signs of sadness, anger or frustration?
  9. Is your child having any problems in interactions with other children?
  10. Have your child's teachers and coaches expressed concern about any changes in your child's behaviour?
  11. Is your child having difficulties concentrating at school or while playing sports or games?
  12. Is your child hurting other children?

What are the schools doing to help?

Parents are not solely responsible for the fitness and nutrition of our kids. It is no secret that the decrease in physical education funding has contributed to the problem not to mention fatty cafeteria food. But progress is being made.

  • School boards restrict the sale of vending machine foods that are not healthy and nutritious.
  • Recently the Ontario government made a commitment to drop trans fatty foods from school lunchroom menus and vending machines. Ontario's Healthy Food for Healthy Schools Act will call for:
    • An end to selling food with trans fat in school cafeterias
    • An all-out ban on junk food and trans fat in all public school vending machines.
    • Healthier menu choices in cafeterias, based on the new Canada's Food Guide.
  • The Ministry of Education insists that school boards must ensure that kids get at least twenty minutes of "sustained moderate to vigorous physical activity each school day during instructional time."

If you think your school is not meeting expectations, contact your school board.

Conclusion:

It's not rocket science but that doesn't mean that changing your family's lifestyle is easy. If you make gradual changes and do it together, it can be fun.