Childhood Obesity is a growing concern across the globe with its early impact already seen in the Caribbean, and in Belize. In 2016 it was reported that over 50% of the adults and that 26% of the children in Belize are obese. Childhood Obesity leads to other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancers as the youth continues to age. In Belize, our obesity rates are higher than the global average and they continue to rise at a rapid rate. It comes down to two basic personal behavior practices – less physical activity and an over consumption of energy. Changing personal behavior now can overcome and reverse this trend. Finding ways for children to move more during the day and being mindful of the foods and beverages that they put into their bodies are the answers to Childhood Obesity.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) is leading the way in the Childhood Obesity effort by focusing on reducing the number of sugar sweetened beverages and junk food that children consume. Teaching children to drink more water, consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and to control portion sizes will help in changing the culture towards health improvement. Efforts in specific settings such as schools and the community can help to support these behaviors while a focus should also be in the homes. Family support and promotion of these behaviors can make it easier for all to practice and sustain these healthy habits. The HCC also recommends that schools could improve mandatory physical education offered in the school day as well as having a nutrition policy which restricts marketing of sugar sweetened beverages while offering access to good drinking water.
A few strategies to consider at the home:
- Breastfeed the first six months of life and try to continue until 2 years.
- Avoid adding sugar and starches to feeding formula
- Provide a healthy breakfast and serve healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, whole grains)
- Reduce the intake of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods (these are typically your packaged snacks)
- Encourage more consumption of water and reduce sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
- Ensure you have healthy family meals, seated at your dinner table
- Teach children and limit their exposure to marketing practices
- Teach children how to prepare healthy snacks and meals
- Reduce non-active time (video screen time)
- Lead by example and advocate better health
- Engage in daily physical activity with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – taking walks is easy
It is up to everyone to practice healthy habits daily to prevent health conditions such as overweight and obesity. Parents need to be physically active at least 30 minutes a day for health improvement, 60 minutes for fitness development, and 90 minutes to lose weight. Children should be active at least 120 minutes a day as they grow and develop. Keeping in mind safety precautions when using equipment can help reduce injuries and maximize enjoyment of the activity being performed.
Start today and make your plan on how you will fit in your activity and which foods you want your family to eat to determine their energy for calorie control. You can do this!