Practical parenting tips for preventing childhood obesity

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Childhood obesity: Statistics show that childhood obesity across the nation has tripled in the past 30 years. However parents can prevent this public health crisis by initiating a few key lifestyle choices at home. | File photo

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Parents, did you know you have the power to turn the tide of a public health crisis? And all you have to do is be willing to change and plan ahead.

Childhood obesity across the nation has tripled in the past 30 years; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in three children are obese. However, with a little help from medical professionals, childhood obesity is completely preventable.

Jamie Broekhuizen, DO, a family physician at Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich, says the desire to change is the first step in reducing childhood obesity.

Broekhuizen explained that incorporating consistent practices into the whole family’s routine can set children up for success.

“Limit children’s exposure to processed fast food, add fresh salads to meals and make as much food from scratch as possible. These are great ways to guide children toward healthier choices,” Dr. Broekhuizen said.

For parents who are short on time, Broekhuizen recommended planning meals in advance. Cooking food in advance is a healthier option than choosing TV dinners or pizza.

“Take half a day to pre-cook meals and put them in the freezer. At mealtime, parents only have to take the food that has already been prepared from the freezer and reheat it,” she said.

Preparing meals in a slow cooker is another option. Put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker, set the timer and go. Dinner will be ready by the time the family arrives home.

While these tips make it easier for parents to guide their children’s food choices when the whole family is together, all bets can be off when kids get to school. That’s where Valley West certified health education specialist Beckie Frieders, comes in.

Frieders works with kids from kindergarten to high school. She explained that emphasizing healthful choices versus counting calories is an important factor when working to instill good eating habits in children at an early age.

“Making sure kids are well-informed about nutrition — especially when it comes to interpreting food labels — gives them the right tools to make better choices on their own,” Frieders said.

Frieders also stressed eating from the five major food groups and increasing physical activity as significant ways to help prevent childhood obesity.

Frieders and Dr. Broekhuizen suggested the following tips parents can use to help their children make healthier lifestyle choices:

1. Replace pops, sodas and all sugary drinks with water or milk.

2. Encourage a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. Parents can be an example for their children to follow.

4. Take half a day to prepare several meals in advance and sit down to eat together.

5. Incorporate exercise into their lives — find activities they like to do and do them together.

Upcoming program

Broekhuizen will present the program, “Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids,” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Valley West Community Medical Office Building on the Valley West campus in Sandwich. The program will focus on basic changes parents can make to help their children. Parents and children will learn about easy lifestyle adjustments that can improve the whole family’s eating habits and daily activities.

Broekhuizen, who received her medical degree in 2006, completed her residency in family medicine at Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies. She has been with Valley West since April 2012. She takes a holistic approach to treating her patients and cares for patients of all ages.

To learn about additional upcoming wellness programs, click here.