Girl Planting seeds

Exercise A Weighty Issue

Diverse_Group_Kids_(2)By Deirdre Imus, May 2017
Parents have countless thoughts running through their minds at any given moment: Is my child happy? Sick? Safe? Doing well in school? Making enough friends?  Tag on the perpetual stress of everyday life (job, commute, the news), and there’s not a lot of room for other worries, like getting the entire family to sit down to a healthy home-cooked meal, or engage in some form of physical activity together.

But the consequences of not at least trying to foster positive eating habits and encourage exercise are all too real. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of adults in this country and about 17 percent of children are obese. Not surprisingly, obesity has been linked with a slew of medical conditions: coronary heart disease; type 2 diabetes; cancers; liver and gall bladder disease; sleep apnea and other respiratory problems; bone and joint degeneration; reproductive problems; and mental health disorders.

The dangers of obesity, especially sustained obesity, are too great to ignore. Luckily, it’s never too late to make positive changes: research has shown that even people in their 70s who start an exercise program for the first time can reap its rewards. As parents, we try our best every single day, and sometimes we fail. Some children will refuse to eat certain foods or partake in certain activities no matter what. But we owe it to them, if not to ourselves, to at least try.

As with many things, creativity is key. Few people want to eat a floret of raw broccoli; it can be tough, dry, and gag-inducing for even the most seasoned vegetable aficionado. But broccoli is easily transformed in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and then pureed with vegetable stock to make a soup. The same goes for cauliflower, carrots, and just about any vegetable you can easily roast or sauté.

If your child is finicky about food textures and prefers a crunchy substance to a creamy one, try roasting chickpeas until they’re nice and brown; the sensation of biting into one is similar to that of popcorn. Chickpeas are rich in insoluble fiber, which aids in digestion.girl_eating_pasta

When it comes to making smart food choices, knowing the difference between good and bad is half the battle. Take sugar, for instance. The body recognizes and digests the sugar found naturally in fruit more easily than it does the sugar added to processed foods.

Sugar hides, too, in seemingly innocuous places like ketchup and milk. Aside from being linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity, added sugar has been implicated as a major contributing factor to heart disease. The consequences of poor eating habits in childhood persist into adulthood, for children and adults of any disposition.

Beyond added sugar, other foods and ingredients to avoid (especially in processed products) include:

o   Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

o   Pesticide-laden, non-organic fruits and vegetables

o   High-Fructose corn syrup, a processed sweetener that has been found to contain mercury

o   Canned goods, most of which contain the toxin bisphenol-A (BPA) in the lining

o   Dairy and animal products that may contain antibiotics or synthetic hormones


Focus on including as much fresh, organic, non-GMO fruits, vegetable, nuts, grains, dairy as possible into your family’s diet. Studies have shown organic foods actually ARE more nutritious than their conventionally grown counterparts.

How you make your food matters too. Try to avoid microwaving – it not only exposes you and your family to radiation, but changes the inherent composition of the food. Frying food is also risky, and has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

Preventing or reversing obesity through dietary choices is just one part of the equation. The other is exercise, and its value cannot be overstated. Get your kids moving early and often, whether at the playground, in the pool, or through a team or individual sport. The sooner you introduce your child to exercise, the less likely they’ll be to remember life without it.

According to the American Council on Exercise, children who exercise are more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Physical activity can also help kids sleep better and longer; build strong bones, muscles and joints; improve self-esteem; and enhance academic performance. And according to a new study, healthier kids make socioeconomic sense: a Johns Hopkins researcher found that if all current eight- through 11-year-olds in the U.S. exercised 25 minutes a day, three times a week, $62.3 billion in medical costs and lost wages over the course of their lifetimes could be avoided.

Obesity is a plague in this country, and it is spreading around the world. It doesn’t have to invade your home. Changing well-established habits is tricky business, but doing so will pay dividends in the long run, and may lead to improved outcomes in school and at home. Growing up isn’t easy for anyone, but removing the burden of bad health makes it just a little bit easier.


This article is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Autism File magazine



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