Well, it’s that time of year again! Undoubtedly, your children have requested a lot of different gifts for Christmas over the last several weeks, and you’ve left no stone unturned in trying to locate and purchase every ‘almost’ sold-out one of them you can! Let’s be honest - you’re more than happy to be ‘put out’ like this because you love your babies so much and enjoy seeing the pure joy on their faces when they open their presents! However, for some in America, the most important gift and the greatest act of love they can give their child this holiday season isn’t found in a physical gift, but rather in a commitment to improve their child's health in 2021.
If you haven’t noticed, obesity in America is becoming an epidemic for children. Compared to previous decades, more and more children and adolescents qualify as obese. Did you know that over 18% of children and adolescents between the ages of 2-18 are obese? This number is staggering! One in every 5 children is suffering from a weight issue that in all likelihood will invite other, more serious health issues into their lives as they progress in age. You see, being obese doesn't just mean that your child is overweight and carries a little more fat on their body. Instead, it indicates that they are at a greater risk for developing chronic, lifelong conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and fatty liver disease.
Unfortunately, we have talked to some parents who have ignored this because it is something that they are dealing with themselves (obesity, weight issues) and don’t want to acknowledge with their children. They feel like acknowledging this issue with their children is somehow an acknowledgment and indictment of their own condition. Look - we understand how this can be a sensitive issue for you and one you don’t want to acknowledge or confront. But, please - PLEASE - don’t let this be a factor. Your health is your choice (even if it needs adjustment), but your child’s health is theirs, even though they don’t have that ability to necessarily choose the right pathway yet. They are at an age where they need to be guided. They need you to be their parent, their provider, their help, and their protector - even if it comes as a “do as I say not as I do” approach. We’d love for you to take this journey together, and we can help you accomplish this. But, if you don’t do anything else, give your child the gift of the opportunity for good health for the longevity of their life, and keep them from potentially developing diabetes.
Prevention is preferable to treatment when it comes to chronic illnesses. So, mom and dad, there is great news when it comes to childhood obesity - type 2 diabetes is preventable! There are easy, but purposed things you can do to help your child steer away from obesity and towards good and better health.
Healthy food choices are imperative if a child, or adult for that matter, wants to enjoy better health. If a child is left to his or her own desires, snack food and processed food are the most likely options (hello, candy!). Unfortunately, these options often lead to ‘difficult to process’ calories that end up sticking to the gut and causing long-term problems. Healthy eating can improve your child’s health and long-term projections. Prioritizing fresh fruits and vegetables is monumental in place of processed foods. Preparing meals that are balanced in nutrition is a key as well. They may not like it at first, but they will adapt as they are ‘encouraged’ to eat what is on their plate.
Exercise is another thing that can significantly decrease your child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Your child should exercise for at least 60 minutes daily. This can be broken up into two 30-minute segments, four 15-minute segments, or for an entire hour at a time. Ultimately, children are notorious for modeling the behaviors of their parents, so make it a point to show good exercise habits. Make a commitment to get out and be active with them! There is absolutely no doubt that they will love the time with you! You can throw a ball with them, take them on a bike ride, play tag, play four-square, shoot baskets, or any number of things that they will enjoy and will raise their heart rate. We know that means turning off the TV, phones, and other electronics. This can be a real drag at first. However, every minute they are active in exercising is a minute they are engaging and investing in their long-term health. These types of lifestyle changes will make for a healthier family, not just a healthier child.
If your child has already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there is still hope for them. A healthier lifestyle could help control symptoms and give them the best life possible given the circumstances. However, it is always important to follow your doctor’s advice. There are medications that may be prescribed to help control blood sugar levels in your child. In addition, you may need to check your child’s blood sugar levels at home and even give insulin. Your pediatrician may feel like your child should be seen by a specialist to help better manage your child’s condition. Again, weight loss and a healthy lifestyle with better eating and exercise habits may be helpful, but it is not a substitute for treatment by a doctor.
How do you know if your child is experiencing high levels of blood sugar? Well, the symptoms are fairly transparent if you are aware. They can include bedwetting, having to urinate a lot, being very thirsty, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. If you are concerned that your child may be a diabetic, though, you should talk with the pediatrician as soon as possible. Your child should be evaluated with a blood test to check the blood sugar level. Long term high blood sugar levels can lead to kidney, nerve, and eye damage. Make it a point to talk to your doctor at the first sign of concern.
Obesity may be a problem you developed or even one that runs in your family. However, that doesn’t mean you have to let the trend continue! Your child deserves the best start to his or her life possible. You as the parent are the key to that, and that includes giving them and showing them a healthy lifestyle. Your efforts for them now, even if you are not living this way yourself, can be the key to improving their longevity and quality of life. And that’s the best gift - no matter how hard it may be to do - that you can give them this Christmas!