Back to School and Back to Basics:
Fall Focus on Childhood Obesity

The beginning of a new year is technically January 1. But for parents and students, fall marks the start of a new year. It’s a time to get things in order and renew your commitment to good eating and exercise habits. Maybe it is no coincidence that September is National Childhood Obesity Month, making it the perfect time to get back to basics and address your role in combatting our country’s childhood obesity epidemic.

Refresher Course:
Weight Matters
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, about one of every five (17%) children in the United States is obese, and certain groups of children are more affected than others. Weight matters – a lot.

Did you know?
  • In the last 30 years, obesity has more than doubled in young children and quadrupled in teens.
  • In 2012, about 21% of teens were considered obese. That trend continues today.
  • Children and adolescents with a BMI between, at, or above the 85th percentile are considered overweight.
  • Children and adolescents with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile are considered obese.
If your child is overweight or obese at a young age, there is an 80% chance they will be overweight or obese as an adult. Obesity in childhood can lead to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, bone and join problems, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and low self-esteem. Problems that occur among the elderly can strike at middle age for those who were obese as children.

In addition, the Obesity Action Coalition, an advocacy group for those affected by obesity, reported that 24% of boys and 30% of girls experienced daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size. The good news is that as a parent you can do something about it.

Begin with Breakfast
Start influencing your kids with breakfast. Because the meal is generally eaten at home, you are able to control the choices available and ensure they eat a balanced, healthy meal. According to the Food Research and Action Center, children who eat breakfast before school are more likely to:
  • Reach higher levels of achievement in reading and math
  • Concentrate better
  • Be more alert
  • Retain more of what they learn
  • Participate in class
If your children have one good healthy meal before they head out the door, you’ve made a really good start for their day and their success at school.

Lunch Lessons
Depending upon your school district, lunch choices can be healthy and plentiful or truly horrific. Does your lunchroom offer healthy choices? Or does it include pizza as the vegetable option? As a parent, you have more influence on what your child is eating at home than you do upon the school’s nutrition plan. So start at home.

At home, you can make healthy choices available to your children to take to school as snacks or lunch supplements. You can also pack a lunch which can be tasty and appeal to kids, without breaking the bank in the process. Instead of chicken nuggets, applesauce and tater tots prepared by the school, send your child to school with turkey meatballs (hot or cold) with dipping sauce, orange slices and rosemary-toasted almonds.

Here's a tip...
When you send fruit – make certain it is ready to eat. The oranges are in sections, the apple is sliced and sprinkled with lemon to prevent browning, the pear is sliced and in a cup, the grapes are off the stem with all the yucky ones removed.

Farewell Summer.
Hello Fresh Start.

Did your summer involve a part-time job? Did you have crazy hours or lazy days? Did you forget everything you learned last year? Did your summer fly past in a swoosh of dust, sunscreen and mosquito spray? Most teenagers can answer yes to at least one of these questions.

It isn’t uncommon to pick up new habits during time off from school. Maybe you snacked more often. Perhaps you had more fast food. Many of you spent more time binge-watching movies and shows. In other words – you may have let some good habits slip and replaced them with unhealthy practices.

If that sounds like you, perhaps your fall clothes are fitting more snuggly. Or maybe they don’t fit at all. The start of the school year is a good time to recommit to eating healthy and exercising more. It’s simple. Just remember your ABCs.

A for Activity:
30 Minutes Daily

Activity is not always the same thing as exercise, but it can be. If you’re in a school sport, your 30 minutes of activity might be accounted for with team practice. If you’re not in a sport, there are tons of other ways to be active. According to the Mayo Clinic, your 30 minutes doesn’t even need to be at one time. Two 15-minute activity sessions work just as well. Try this:
  • Walk the dog for 15 minutes in the morning and evening
  • Dance like nobody is watching for 30 minutes when you get home from school
  • Bike to a friend’s house to do homework together and then bike home for dinner
  • Can you walk to school? If so – do it!
  • Toss a Frisbee, softball or football with a friend or family member for ½ an hour

You can also do a family chore for 30 minutes once per week. Mowing the lawn, carrying laundry up and down stairs and even vacuuming and dusting count as an activity. There are plenty of good reasons to be active each day. Here are a few:
  • Exercise helps people sleep better (just don’t work out right before you want to sleep)
  • Exercise produces brain chemicals called endorphins that make people feel happy
  • Exercise helps you lose weight or keep your body at a healthy weight
  • It keeps your bones strong – and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis when you are older
  • It lowers your risk for certain diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure

B for Balance:
Make Half of Every Meal Fruit and Veggies

Sometimes it is nice to take out the guess work. If you look at each meal as a plate (even if it’s a bowl) you can get yourself back on track by making sure half of your plate is made up of fruit and veggies, and the other half contains whole grains and lean protein. When you snack, pick a lean protein, whole grain, or a fresh fruit or veggie. Here are a few whole grain snack ideas:
  • Popcorn, a whole grain, made with little or no added salt and butter
  • Ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal
  • Try 100% whole-grain snack crackers
  • Use whole-grain flour or oatmeal if you make your own cookies

Snack Smart

“I’m starving!” Is that the first thing you hear when they walk in the door after school? Your kids may in fact be thirsty, rather than hungry, and are misreading their body signals. In either case, you can start them off with some diluted juice. Full strength juice is packed with sugar, but a splash of juice in filtered water gives it a bit of flavor and color, without all the sugar. Another option is to add cucumbers or lemons to a pitcher of water in the morning. When they get home from school they’ll have a refreshing drink waiting for them.

Follow the water with crunch (7-8 carrots or celery sticks and 1/3 cup humus dip), sweetness (fruit or plain yogurt with fruit added) or protein (roll a piece of string cheese in two slices of smoked turkey) to satisfy those hunger pains.

While it may be tempting to flop down in front of a computer screen or TV, after school is a great time to get some movement into the day. How to do it is a parenting choice, and there is no right or wrong answer – but movement is critical to weight control. Find a way for your kids to have 30 active minutes per day, every day. If you make activities a family affair, then you know it is getting done. Try taking an after dinner bike ride, or a pre-dinner family walk that can actually help curb everyone’s appetite.

Dinnertime Demands

Now is not the time to weaken! You’ve done a great job so far and are coming down the home stretch
with the final meal of the day.

Children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media (TV, computers, video games, cell phones, movies). Make your family table a no-cell-phone zone and resist the temptation to have the TV on during meals. When you eat dinner without technology, you eat dinner with more attention paid to the food. “Mindless” eating can easily become over-eating.

Prepare dinner while keeping mind that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid has been retired and replaced by a plate. Create a great plate with the following:
  • ½ the plate filled with fruit and vegetables
  • Slightly more than ¼ of the plate with whole grains
  • Slightly less than ¼ of the plate with lean protein
  • One serving of low fat dairy 

Tip: Use a salad plate at dinnertime to control portions

Nutrition is tied to obesity and both are tied to a child’s overall wellbeing. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has many causes, among them are:
  • Greater availability of less healthy foods and sugary drinks
  • Advertising of less healthy foods
  • Lack of daily, quality physical activity in schools
  • Increasing portion sizes (think fast food)
  • Greater exposure to television and media
As a parent, you can influence many of these factors and get your kids back to school with a good grade in nutrition and a gold star for healthy habits.

C for Calories in – Calories out: Count Them

In the movie “Bridget Jones’ Diary” the lead character writes down what she consumes each day. Here is a sample of her diary:

Food consumed today:
2 pkts Emmenthal cheese slices
14 cold new potatoes
1/3 Ciabatta loaf with Brie
coriander leaves--1/2 packet
12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of all Christmas confectionery in one go and make fresh start tomorrow)
13 cocktail sticks securing cheese and pineapple

While Bridget Jones’ food journal may have missed the nutrition mark, she should score some points for taking the time to write down her daily food intake. Whether you call it a diary, food journal or calorie log, keeping track of calories consumed is a great way to train your eyes (and stomach) to be aware of what you’re eating and how it makes you feel.

New research published in the British Medical Journal shows many of us are underestimating the calories we’re eating, especially at fast food restaurants. Teenagers in the study were asked to buy 756 calories in food and beverage for one meal. “At least two-thirds of all participants underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating the calorie content by at least 500 calories,” the study authors write.

According to the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, moderately active teens need the following calorie intake to maintain a healthy weight:
  • 1,800–2,200 calories a day for boys 11 to 13 years
  • 2,400–2,800 calories a day for boys 14 to 18 years
  • 1,600–2,000 calories a day for girls 11 to 13 years
  • 2,000 calories a day for 14 to 18 years
This is a rough guideline but it will give you a place to start. If you are a sedentary couch-potato type of person, which is not recommended, subtract about 200 calories per day. If you’re very active (soccer, track team, swimming, basketball) the calories needed to stay “even” can go up to about 3,500 daily.

Tip: Complete a daily food calorie journal for one week

To lose weight, you’ll need to expend more energy (one hour of activity instead of 30 minutes) and consume about 200 fewer calories per day.

There is a lot of adjusting to do when school starts in the fall. New teachers, new students, new classes. Healthy eating habits can help you be your best any day of the week as you adjust to the new year. Think of it as the ABCs of life skill success.

For more information and ideas on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, visit:


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