Make fitness a family affair in 2014

by Bradley Hartsell

Childhood obesity rates in Georgia are following a national trend, slowly, downward after a generation of rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the tick downward, progress still must be made and people like Kayla Floyd, physical education instructor at Canongate Elementary in Coweta County, are staking their claim in healthier children.

“It’s my personal goal to let my students experience as many different physical activities in class as possible. Not only are they active and learning now, but they see physical activity can be fun and this promotes a positive outlook toward exercise and healthy lifestyle habits for their futures,” Floyd said.

Obesity rates in all Americans have been on the rise for over a quarter of a century. With fast food, junk food and chemically altered food, Americans are eating worse food and more of it, which dramatically affects the entire nation when it steps on the scale. The bad habits, according to Floyd, that American adults learned didn’t take long to trickle down to the children.

“Fighting childhood obesity is of the utmost importance because the rate has tripled in the past 25 years,” explained Floyd. “Diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes have increased and we can’t blame it all on genetics. If we can get our youth moving regularly, whether it be at an organized league or a backyard tag game, I feel we would see these numbers decrease and an overall improvement in childhood health.

“I just think it's a big issue that doesn't need to be cast aside,” she added. “Our youth need to realize that their health and lifestyle habits now stick with them in the future.”

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, with an office in Coweta County, is offering tips for how to maintain a “fit family,” which starts at the top with the parents but ultimately benefits children as much, if not more.

“Childhood obesity is a major issue facing thousands of Georgia children,” said UGA Extension Service’s Constance Crawley. “But research shows that the earlier a family makes changes to promote a healthy lifestyle, the more successful children will be in adulthood.

“Making healthy lifestyle changes can be a family affair when adults and children adopt healthy habits that can improve their health and their quality of life.”

Crawley echoed research done by The American Academy of Pediatrics and recommends the following practices to instill a healthy lifestyle in children, and also adults who look to set an example for their children.

• Make it a top priority to eat fruits and vegetables. Vegetables and fruits are low in energy density and high in nutritional value.

• Limit sweet drinks. The average child consumes 400 calories per day from beverages. And they do not eat fewer calories at the next meal to compensate for these liquid calories. Have water available at all times at home and school. The AAP specifically does not recommend energy drinks for children and teens and suggests only student athletes, who exercise hard for over an hour, drink sports drinks during and immediately after their workouts.

• Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast raises metabolism and improves school performance. It also curbs overeating later in the day.

• Limit eating out, especially at fast food restaurants. This will help with portion control and fat, sodium and calorie intake.

• Eat together as a family as much as possible. Typically meals made at home and served to the family are higher in nutritional value than meals eaten alone or out.

• Limit portion sizes. Allow younger children to serve themselves. Often they will take less than an adult would put on their plates. Do not put serving dishes on the table so seconds are not automatic. Use smaller plates, bowls and cups.

• Consume foods rich in calcium. Low fat or reduced fat dairy foods tend to promote a feeling of satiety. Also other calcium-rich food like soy milk, breakfast cereals fortified with calcium and greens are good for kids.

• Promote moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day. Include both structured activity like sports, dance class or martial arts and unstructured play like jump rope, tag, skating, swimming or just walking or biking to school.

• Limit calorie-dense foods and select foods that are balanced in carbohydrates, protein and fat. Eat and offer more vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish, and low fat or non-fat dairy foods. Limit calorie-dense foods like candy, pizza, fried foods, desserts and salty, high fat snacks.



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