|My 6-yr old son, in the red, runs a mile in the regional cross-country championship|
This week’s story on the government removing an 800lb 8 year old third grader from the custody of his family’s home in Cleveland, Ohio has got a lot of folks tongue wagging and pointing blame. Is it the family’s fault for feeding the kid too much? Was it the food industry’s fault for marketing junk food to children and schools? Was is it regulations or farm growers’ fault for making healthy food more expensive than conventional foods? Is the government overstepping its boundaries removing children from homes because they are too fat?
Roughly 2 million U.S. children are extremely obese and weigh more than what is considered healthy. You can only say a kid is “big boned” or just a “big kid” for so long.
I have a 6-year-old who was on the verge of getting too fat for his age and size, and frankly, was quite plump. When his pants stopped fitting, buttons started popping off and he started fitting into his 9-year old big brother’s clothes and weighed more than him, we as the parents realized we needed to step in and do something.
Some of our friends told us not to worry. They tried to convince us that he just had baby fat and that he would grow out of it. They said we were being neurotic and overreacting when we told them we were thinking of taking steps to reign in his excessive weight gain. It took our son about a half a year to balloon to his chunky size.
Not swayed by our friends, my husband and I decided we would take charge. We did two simple things and got him back to an average child size within 6 months:
1. We emptied the house of junk: all cookies, chips, cakes, candy, and unhealthy high sugar cereals and snacks. We just stopped buying them altogether. In their place, we filled the fridge with apples, oranges, carrot sticks, applesauce, graham crackers, animal crackers, melba toast, low fat string cheese, low fat pudding snacks, and whole grain cereals. We fed the kids whole meals made from scratch and limited processed mac and cheese, pizza, and frozen reheated chicken nuggets. We cut down on the trips to McDs and when we did go, opted for milk and apple dippers instead of fries and a soft drink. We’d peel the fried crust off the nuggets. We also discouraged our boy from excess snacking and eating too much after 8pm, or sneaking food as he used to do.
2. We enrolled our growing boy into his school’s cross country (long distance) running club. To prepare for meets held on Sundays, he had to run 2 miles a week twice a week during practice and he’d do stretches and other sprinting training runs. He also practiced once a week for his Saturday soccer club. He played for 30 minutes each Saturday during league games and then had Sunday race meets. Combined with his weekly gym class at school, we made sure he got enough physical exercise to work down some of those excess pounds.
Many communities have low cost or free recreational leagues at local boys and girls club, the YMCA or other community athletic programs. The benefit of recreational leagues is that there is no pressure for the kids who play in them to be stellar athletes. They usually take all kids of all skill levels and are there for parents who want their children who prefer to be stuck behind a video game console to get up and get moving. For parents who live in rural areas, they could investigate to see if there are regional athletic programs available where kids from different schools are pooled together to form a team. Do some homework.
Simple. Not rocket science. We didn’t put him on a diet. Pediatricians and nutritionists worry about depriving kids of much needed nutrients and discourage parents from putting their kids on diets. All we did was take away the junk food and fed him wholesome food and he slimmed down. Bad eating habits got him that big and we just had to replace them with healthy habits to have him slim down. At a post-Thanksgiving event this year, several of our friends commented to us that they noticed he has trimmed down tremendously.
It helps that my husband and I love to exercise and constantly watch what we eat so we already have a healthier mindset than most, but it wouldn’t take much for even a moderately healthy parent to do the same and step in and take simple affirmative steps to get their kids moving and eating better.
Parents don’t want to disappoint their kids but depriving a child of junk food does not make them a bad parent. Letting them grow too large and be subject to a host of obesity-related illnesses and teasing in school and on the playgrounds, however, may be their fault.
The solution is a Kiss (Keep it simple silly). Besides, emptying the house of junk helped everyone in the family trim down too. There’s a bonus for doing the right thing!