Living Well – Children need committed role models

Vicky Trill's monthly column on health and fitness.

Role models for our grandchildren.

Role models for our grandchildren.

If you could help your child or teen to have great heart and bone health, have better posture and balance, if you could help increase their confidence and meet friends, would you?

Of course you would! Why then, are so many not doing this? Today’s statistics are telling us a sad story about our children and teens’ health. One out of every three children ages 5-17 are overweight or obese.  Obesity is not just about looking bigger than you should, there are a vast array of alarming health risks that come with being overweight: diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, improper growth and development, to name a few. In addition, an overweight child often struggles with low self-esteem and lacks opportunities that he/she may have if not overweight.

Today our children and youth have a wealth of information right at their fingertips. The potential of the internet to teach and inform, to enable and to communicate is exciting. Along with the many positives of technology though, comes a number of negative effects on children and youth. The amount of screen time our children and youth spend each day is staggering. We have TVs, DVDs, Smart Phones, iPods, laptops, etc. we use these devices to make our lives easier, more enjoyable, more informed and more connected, but what is all of this inactive time sitting in front of a screen doing to our children and youth? According to the Health Canada, youth spend an average of eight hours every day in front of a screen. Yes, you read that right, eight hours every day spent being sedentary! So, what about the other 16 hours of the day? Well, hopefully around eight of those hours are spend sleeping and then there is school most days which we could expect four to five more hours of being sedentary, leaving around three hours for being active and we haven’t even included breakfast, lunch or dinner yet… I think the problem is obvious, the solution however, may take some thought and some purposeful and consistent work.

I have a 4 year old daughter and her health is always at the front of my mind. I want her to eat healthy foods and get her daily physical activity in every day so that she can have every opportunity to grow and develop into a healthy, smart, confident young lady. The more I parent, the more I realize that although I may KNOW what should be done, it’s what I actually DO that makes the difference. I know that my 4 year old daughter should eat five servings of vegetable and fruit every day and that she should be getting at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity everyday. I cannot however expect to just tell her this and go about my day with what’s easiest for me and my schedule. That’s the hard part. If she is to eat a healthy balance of vegetables, fruit, milk, grain and meat, then I need to ensure that these foods are in front of her every day. If she is to be moving vigorously for one hour every day, then I must find some activities that promote this, like walking to pre-school, playing in the park, riding her bike, skating at the arena or turning on the dance music and dancing in the living room. Of course, I will need to do these things with her. This is where we are struggling right? If these healthy habits haven’t been a habit for us, it’s difficult to make those changes. So let’s not worry about doing everything all at once okay? How about picking one healthy lifestyle change and making it a part of your family’s daily habit? This week, why not exchange half an hour of screen time each day for half an hour of being active? Choose from any of the above active ideas or insert your own and have some fun spending quality healthy time with your precious children.

This is the first of a series or articles on Healthy, Active Families. Email me with your ideas and feedback.