I am on a crusade to eradicate childhood obesity and diabetes. For me, it's more than my profession, it's my personal mission.
As you've undoubtedly learned, Type 2 diabetes is a condition that is caused by a lack of physical activity, overweight and unhealthy eating. Previously, it was called Adult Onset Diabetes because it usually occurred in people over 40. The age of onset has been decreasing steadily over the last 30 years. Now we have children as young at eight years old being diagnosed with this deadly condition. Sadly, these kids will have a shortened the lifespan -- by eight to 12 years!
How did we get so out of control? Of course this is a multi-factorial problem with the loss of in-school physical education, after-school sports, 'latch key' children going to empty homes staying indoors playing video games, watching TV and surfing the Internet. Of course when both parents are working outside of the home, the usual complaint is that there is no time to prepare healthy meals, our children are 'picky' and don't want to eat veggies, and it costs too much to eat healthy anyway.
Clearly this is a challenge to address during a recession, but since the family is the cornerstone for health and wellbeing I feel that the family at home is the place that healing our children should start.
My personal decree: "Parents, take back the health of your family!"
Here are my top five strategies I use when doing family health makeovers as part of my medial practice and television appearances.
1. Take Back The Kitchen
Parents have given away control of the kitchen to their kids, to food manufacturers, to fast food restaurants and to their work schedules. Parents need to take back the kitchen and eliminate disease-causing, fat stimulating foods.
I am forcefully giving parents permission to say 'No!' again.
Say No! to processed foods, No! to high-fat fast foods, No! to eating in front of the TV.
Yes, kids are going to resist in the beginning, but kids do better when they have structure, boundaries and discipline. Over time, they and you will be glad that you took your rightful place as parent.
If you want your kids to be happy, healthy and successful in life, nourish them well. This means educating yourself about what types of foods you should always have on hand. Learn how to prepare your kids' favorites in healthier ways.
Encourage your children to be a part of the process. Allow them to shop with you, read the labels, find new recipes together and cook together. It's time to give up excuses and the unrealistic expectation that schools, governments or cellophane wrappers are going to solve our kids' health problems. We can do it!
2. Institute A Mealtime Routine
Parents need to consistently control what and when their kids are eating. Kids usually come home, sit in front of the TV and snack. By the time the family could come together for dinner, many kids are so full of junk food that they have no appetite for 'real' food. Later at night when the hunger returns, many kids are in the habit of late night eating that sets them up for a lifetime of weight challenges.
Children can learn to eat better when they are fed consistently, just like when they were babies! By providing healthy, easy options for meals and snacks throughout the day you ensure that their blood sugar level stays steady, producing better moods, concentration and energy.
Another culprit in the childhood obesity battle is the fact that many kids don't eat together at a table or as a family. Bringing order to mealtime madness helps to build intellectual skills that will translate to better academic achievement at school and in life.
Create a clean place for your child to eat. That means no junk stacked on the dinner table. Insist that the family come together to eat most nights of the week -- or at least once per week! This allows parents to communicate directly with their children, to find out what's going on in their heads and hearts. Not only does eating together as a family help with maintaining a healthy weight, it promotes greater self-awareness and self-mastery.
3. Stock Up On Healthy Snack Items
You don't have to be rich to have a well-stocked pantry. Parents need to be sure to have Mother Nature's original 'fast foods' on hand at all times. Unsalted nuts, fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, carrots, etc.
Make sure that your kids always have something healthy on hand for eating before doing their homework, or when they head out the door to play, and before sports or other activities.
If the junk food is no longer there then they will eat the healthy stuff. Unless they are dealing with a serious medical condition like anorexia, no child will starve themselves.
4. Insist On Physical Activity
Help to create opportunities for your child to have at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. It is best for kids to do it with the entire family, but even for those parents working two jobs, they must insist that their kids walk around the house, the neighborhood, jump rope or whatever. Get your kids off of the couch, and onto the playground, into art classes, team sports or any activity that interests them!
A couple of years ago a study found that kids who watch television for four hours or more per day are more likely to display aggressive or delinquent behaviors. Now we see that TV watching is also linked to obesity. Parents must exercise the authority to lead and discipline their children. Turn off the TV, computer and game console -- and get active with your kids!
5. Get A Medical Evaluation
You must determine whether your child is healthy or not and whether s/he is in need of more than just basic nutrition. Since high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise among children under the age of 12, we must not bury our heads in the sand and call our children 'chubby' while dismissing the excess weight as a sign of a serious medical condition.
It is important for your child to develop a relationship with healthcare providers in a consistent, non-threatening and supportive way. The more that children recognize what is healthy and what is sick, the more responsibility they will take in maintaining their wellbeing.
Dr. Pennington is the author of The PENNINGTON PLAN: 5 Simple Steps for Achieving Vibrant Health, Emotional Wellbeing and Spiritual Growth and The Pennington Plan for Weight Success. She is the past President of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals, Editor in Chief for www.DiabetesProof.org, a national lifestyle campaign to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. She is also President of Pennington Empowerment Media where she oversees The Pennington Plan for Success Series: Childhood Obesity & Diabetes Prevention Program. This proprietary Program has been used in the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles, on national television and in her Healthy Kids FitChallenge. Dr. Pennington has been featured on Oprah, Dr. Oz, Extra, CNN and she's the past Medical Director and Spokesperson for Discovery Health Channel and Discovery Health Online.