COVID-19 lockdowns have not been kind to waist lines. Adult obesity rates are up, and alarmingly, obesity rate among kids are also on the rise. In a recent study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente Southern California found that during the pandemic, overweight or obesity increased among 5- through 11-year-olds from 36% to 46%. Nutrition and exercise are the foundation of any healthy living plan. To help parents get their kids back in shape, Smart Lifebites reached out to two experts in their respective fields to create get-healthy plans for children: Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and a pioneer in the field of food addiction. Megan Meisner is a certified personal trainer.
Nutrition Plan for Kids
Avoid talk of going on a diet
This rise in obesity is due, in part, to the disruptions in our general lifestyle that happened overnight. It is also linked to the stress about pivoting to learning online, and the general worry about when things would be back to “normal”. Now more than ever, maintaining a healthy body weight is important for our overall health and well-being. How much we exercise and what we eat play pivotal roles in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. So, what should you do if your children put on some extra weight during the pandemic? One thing you want to avoid doing is talking about “going on a diet.” Instead, the focus should be on eating healthy to stay healthy. When discussing food consumption, a healthy lifestyle does not mean that children should be eating less, but rather that they should be eating all different types of nutritious foods.
Fruits and vegetables all day long
There are many different things that parents can do to ensure that their kids are eating healthy. Try incorporating fruits and vegetables in all meals throughout the day. While they do not need to be the main focus of the meal, a side of a fruit or vegetable can provide important vitamins and minerals needed! Additionally, purchase healthy snacks that children can snack on when they are hungry between meals. Healthy snacks could be anything from nuts, or low-sugar yogurt, or pretzels and hummus. It is also important to encourage kids to eat when they are hungry, but rather than choosing a snack that provides no energy and excess preservatives, try substituting with snacks that will boost their nutrition and energy is a sustained manner. Opting for a candy bar for a snack is not a good choice, and it will leave them likely feeling hungry again in an hour or so because they didn’t get the nutrients they need to stay satisfied. The goal is to help kids learn that they should be fueling up with food that makes them feel strong and ready for the day rather than lethargic.
Avoid labeling foods as good or bad
Having a positive attitude toward food is also important. Avoid labeling foods as “good or bad” and instead opt for a term like “healthier choice.” When shopping, bring the kids along, and let them choose products that they want to eat. When they select something that isn’t really healthy, explain why this is the case, and use this as an opportunity to educate them about Nutrition Facts labels and ingredients. Letting kids have control over what they are eating is important, as parents having too much control doesn’t allow kids to learn the skills of choosing healthy items in their diet. Making sure that your children have access to healthy foods and have a positive relationship to food can contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle!
Fitness Plan for Kids
Fitness is more than passing a Presidential Fitness Test when you’re in 2nd grade. It’s living with a positive mindset along with healthy habits based on movement, activity and having fun. One way to overcome the increase in youth obesity is by putting a fresh, positive spin on ways to inspire our kids to adopt healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Kids crave variety. They want something exciting to challenge them and stimulate growth along with new ways of thinking. Creating a plan that includes cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, body composition, muscular endurance and muscular strength will not only increase their adherence to a program, but it will reduce the likelihood of boredom. Incorporating the 5 components of fitness ensures your child is developing the appropriate strengths and skills while reducing their risk of getting sick now and in the future.
Also known as aerobic fitness, cardiovascular endurance refers to the body’s ability to bring oxygen to the heart, lunges, arteries, blood vessels and veins. Strengthen this system with activities such as running, walking, swimming, dancing and bicycling. Play tag in the backyard or see who can collect the most pennies from the bottom of the pool. These are excellent activities that can be done as a family.
The range of motion at a particular joint is referred to as flexibility. Stretching exercises will help maintain a full range of motion and reduce the risk of injury. Activities such as yoga, tumbling, cheer and many youth sports can improve and maintain flexibility. Another win-win stretching strategy is to assign chores that require reaching. Cleaning out cabinets, wiping mirrors or windows and raking leaves promote joint mobility. Folding laundry while sitting cross legged is a great way to stretch the hips.
Examples of muscular endurance include running long distances or bicycling for an extended period of time. The muscles are able to endure long duration exercise. Low intensity strength exercises will help build muscular endurance. On the weekends, pack up the bikes and head to a trail for a long distance ride. Have a large yard? Assign mowing the lawn to your child’s weekly chore chart.
Muscular strength is best described as how much force a muscle group can produce in a single effort, while muscular endurance refers to how many times a muscle can repeat a movement. One of the best places to build strength is at the playground! Watch those arms wiggle their way across the monkey bars. Getting up at the bottom of a slide? That requires lower body and core strength, from some of the largest muscles in the body.
This is the body’s ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass. Working on the above components, along with healthy eating, will usually result in the recommended body composition. Weight gain is usually the result of consuming more calories than are burned. Excessive food consumption sometimes occurs out of boredom or as a result of stress. If this is the case, consider alternative activities that will redirect your child’s energy and attention. Gardening is a great hobby that teaches children about fruits and vegetables. It allows them to enjoy the foods, reaping the rewards from their effort as well. Building forts with pillows and boxes exercises the body, along with creativity. Prefer to stay outside? Give fishing or frisbee golf a try.
A successful fitness plan doesn’t necessarily have to “check all the boxes” and break a sweat. For all of the hard work your child puts in at the park or while playing in the backyard, it’s equally important to take time to rest and destress. So, bring out the bubbles and pop on some kid-friendly tunes! There’s so much to celebrate in life so why not dance and laugh? Ready? Set? Live fit!
– Dr. Nicole Avena and Megan Meisner
Dr. Nicole Avena is a is a research neuroscientist and a pioneer in the field of food addiction. She’s the author of “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant: A Week-By-Week Guide to Support Your Health and Your Baby’s Development.” Her seminal research work jump-started a new field of exploration in medicine and nutrition.
She is an expert in diet during pregnancy and baby, toddler and childhood nutrition. Learn more about her at her website Dr.NicoleAvena.com.
Megan Meisner is a Certified Personal Trainer and new mom to her rainbow baby, Clancy. Megan Meisner Fitness emphasizes activity, nutrition and restoration. In a world that overwhelms us with diet plans, new workout routines and the latest “stress-busting, abs-lusting” claims, my fitness community will help you silence the distractions and focus on mindfulness, self awareness and support to reach your goals. The emphasis is on progression, not perfection. Her stories include 4 Tips for Post Baby Fitness.