In recent years the epidemic of childhood obesity has gained notoriety in the media for being a serious issue facing our youth. Countless studies have been cited and statistics trotted out to the increasingly concerned public, and in response, elected officials have begun making policy changes aimed at increasing child fitness through better nutrition and health education.
As a result, the meals that many schools provide are beginning to include more healthy options and PSA’s stress the importance of getting children physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. These well-meaning initiatives are certainly a step in the right direction towards improving child fitness on a national scale, but these sweeping policies can also provide a false sense of security for parents.
General programs aren’t enough
Some schools have been able to make changes to their lunch program by making healthy food options more accessible to students and now provide better education on the importance of being in good physical shape. But for those that haven’t – due to lack of funding, staff or resources – many of these programs fall on deaf ears.
Budgets are tight for schools and youth-service organizations across the country. Among the first things being cut are gym classes and after-school recreational activities. Meanwhile, healthy food options usually cost more than the more traditional choices many of us grew up with.
Even if schools are offering these resources to their students, parents can easily get the wrong impression that these steps are enough for their child to be healthy. It is this false sense of security that parents need to overcome.
Ultimately the health of a child falls on the responsibility of the parents. They need to be the ones to ensure that their children are eating healthy foods at home – and when they’re at school that they’re actually choosing the healthy meal options. They also need to get their children to be physically active for a meaningful amount of time each day.
The role parents play
School and public programs only go so far into changing the habits of children. For any long-term changes to be achieved, the message needs to be reinforced at home by their parent or guardian at a young enough age when habits are still being formed. In most cases family involvement will determine the success or failure of these programs in improving child fitness.
Children can learn all about the food pyramid and the need for aerobic activity, but unless the message is reinforced and mirrored at home the lessons are unlikely to sink in.
Parents need to make healthy meals and plan physical activities at home so that children receive the lessons we want them to learn in a consistent and organized way. This might include such things as:
- involving children in grocery shopping by helping them pick out fresh fruits and vegetables
- having them help you prepare nutritious meals (let them toss the salad!)
- go on family bike rides
- play in the yard or at the park with them
- set good examples by eating healthy and remaining physically active
Take initiative for their sake
It might be easy to assume that the lessons children at school about fitness is enough to create a lasting change in the decisions they make about their health, but sadly that’s not the case.
And it might also be easy to say that because of busy schedules or other commitments that continuing any good lessons taught at school or through after-school activities at home is too difficult. But what you must remember is that these teachable moments are shaping the life-long habits to ensure the health and well-being of your child. And nothing can be more important than that.