Combating childhood obesity
By Mike Ceonzo
There are more important reasons to get the kids outside and keep them active this summer besides just getting sunshine and interacting with nature. It will keep them away from the TV, video games, and junk foods, which may lurk inside the house. Lack of activity has led to an alarmingly high rate of childhood obesity.
Right now, more than 15 percent of children in the 6-19 age range in the USA are obese, a figure that has doubled for some ages and tripled for others since the 1970s.
The reasons for this skyrocketing figure are numerous. Modern society preaches convenience, so two of the most common culprits are the likelihood to indulge in ready-made meals than fresh-cooked feasts and choosing various transportation methods to get to relatively short destinations over simply walking. Combine this relatively unsafe diet with a decreasing amount of daily physical activity, and it’s no wonder that more and more kids are experiencing unhealthy weight gains. It’s important to remember that some of the causes of obesity cannot be prevented, including genetic disorders and family history. Hormonal malfunctions, particularly with the thyroid gland, can also be a culprit.
Growing larger in girth has more health risks than just the outward appearance would suggest. Aside from the larger appearance, sufferers of childhood obesity often deal with bowed legs from the excess weight they are forced to carry. Constant headaches and drowsiness also occur. The greater the childhood weight, the greater the risk for sleep apnea, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and even problems with balancing. Once adulthood is reached, there’s a severe danger of developing maladies like arthritis, and even cancer in some cases. These physical ailments are bad, but they don’t hurt quite as much as the emotional difficulties that obesity brings. Kids can say some mean things, and the heavier ones are perfect targets for insults and teasing. As a result, self-esteem plummets, which opens the door for depression and negative body image.
But there’s hope. Pediatricians can easily perform a few tests to calculate obesity levels in children. They start by calculating the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) level by dividing weight by height squared. If indeed the child is overweight, an evaluation to discover the specific cause is undertaken. Occasionally, the pediatrician will X-ray the child’s hands and feet to get an estimate of bone age, which may help determine the cause. Hormonal tests on the glands may also be carried out. After all the tests have been carried out, a treatment method is devised.
Dr. Lorraine Lemons, D.O., of Capital Care Medical Group Pediatrics Albany said she meets with obese children and their families on a daily basis, but doesn’t perform any “miracle procedures” that are desired so badly. Instead, she sits them down for discussions on food and exercise plans.
“It can be difficult for the children as well as their families, because other family members are often obese and everyone has to change,” Dr. Lemons said. “The best way to go about it is to break it down and deal with one thing at a time.”
Many times, it’s the parents of the household who have the ability to change their child’s life around, but in doing so, they might have to change a bit themselves. Since kids tend to mirror their parents in some aspects, eating properly in front of them can have a larger impact than one might expect. In fact, a survey conducted by the American Obesity Association found that 61 percent of parents could easily change their own diets if doing so would lower obesity in their children.
Eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet can have a terrific impact on weight loss – soda is known to be one of the worst culprits. Also, a surprising cause of obesity is eating while watching TV.
Dr. Lemons cited lunchtime at school to be a potential hassle. There generally aren’t a lot of healthy options available, and it can be hard for your child to eat healthy when all of his or her friends are chowing down on pizza and ice cream. Bringing healthy food from home is the best option.
Naturally, an exercise program of some sort should accompany this newfound diet. Enroll your child in sports leagues he or she enjoys and get the whole family involved in activities – working out with parents or even the entire household can be both efficient and fun. Even doing chores around the house can burn off some extra calories.
“The entire family must work together if they want to succeed,” Dr. Lemons said. “Variety will help keep everybody interested in the process. Hikes, walks, swimming, and anything else interesting and fun are great ways to go about it.”
Exercise training for children
One third of American teenagers are inactive. Children age 6-17 don’t fair much better with 68 percent failing to meet minimum standards for cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance.
It is important to initiate your children into exercise early and often in order to establish the foundation of healthy activity habits for the rest of their lives. But before doing so, you have to remember that children’s bodies have special requirements that are different from those of adults.
• Youngsters are at a higher risk of heat illness due to their developing cardiovascular systems, immature sweat glands, higher core temperatures and higher heat production. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that children’s bodies are most amenable to short rest periods and fluid breaks every 15-30 minutes to allow for 1-150 ml of no or low carbohydrate fluids.
• Before puberty, children have less muscle glycogen, which means that they have a decreased ability to perform high intensity, anaerobic exercise. They also have a lower cardiac output in general since their hearts are only 30 percent developed in size. For this reason, they carry less blood and process less oxygen overall then adults.
Children do have quick energy systems and so have superior recovery rates and achieve a steady state faster than adults. Intermittent activities like games and relay races work well as a way to engage in physical activity. The newest AAP guidelines state that it is appropriate for children to lift weights, but should use higher repetitions and low resistance with an emphasis on muscle balance, proper technique and flexibility.
Children respond best to different types of activities depending on their age category. The following is a breakdown of age related exercise activities.
Birth to 18 months
Small children need several hours of unstructured movement every day and should never be inactive for more than 60 minutes at a time.
In addition to unstructured spontaneous movements, toddlers need a minimum of 30 minutes of structured physical activities. These can be broken into smaller blocks of 5-10 minutes.
Examples of age appropriate exercises are Splish Splash and Crossing the Midline.
Splish Splash: Place a plastic sheet on the floor or an outside area with some warm water in a large bowl on top of the sheet. Sit the baby by the bowl. Demonstrate splashing lightly and encourage the baby to do the same.
Crossing the Midline: Place your baby in a comfortable seated position. Sit in front of her and hide a favorite toy behind your back. Make a game of handing her the toy so that she has to reach across her body to get it. You can also encourage using both hands and alternating hands for more mind/body integration to help your baby learn while also teaching physical activity.
Age appropriate exercises for toddlers include Heads, Bellies, Toes and Row, Row, Row your Boat.
Heads, Bellies, and Toes: Stand facing your child. Beginning slowly, call out the names of the three body parts in the title, asking your child to touch each part as he hears the name. Once your child is proficient at this you can mix up the order. This game helps with identifying body parts, encourages flexibility, and helps your child learn the concepts of up, down, high, and low.
Row, Row, Row, Your Boat: Sit facing your child with your legs apart and your child’s legs straight out between yours. Hold your child’s hands and lean forward, and encourage him to lean back as far as possible. Gently pull him back up to sitting position. Continue in a rowing motion. This exercise works on strength, flexibility while also teaching about cause and effect in movement.
Preschoolers need an additional 30 minutes of structured activities per day for a total of 60 minutes. As with toddlers, these can be broken into smaller time periods or sustained with rest periods.
Age appropriate exercises for this age group include Statues and The Track Meet.
Statues: To get your child moving, play up tempo music in the background and encourage her to move while the music is playing. Turn the music off and have your child freeze into a statue. It makes the game more enjoyable if you participate too! You can also do this with a group of children.
The Track Meet: Invite your child to participate in an Olympic track meet as an athlete. Have her get in the start position, fire an imaginary gun and run the track. You can also have your child jump imaginary hurdles!
6 + years
Children in this age group need 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week. By this age your children are able to participate in similar sport and fitness activities of adults, but with other children in their age group. Dance lessons, karate programs, soccer leagues and PE class are examples of such activities.
Children in this age category should also be encouraged to develop fitness practices that they do on their own. Examples of this type of exercise include riding a scooter, riding a bike, roller blading and even walking the dog.
A balance between group fitness and personal fitness practices will best serve your child as you are working towards developing lifetime fitness practices.
Judy Torel, owner of Judy Torel’s Sweat Shop, is available by appointment and phone for lifestyle coaching. You can contact her at 459.6942, www.judytorelsweatshop.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also the fitness consultant for WNYT-News Channel 13.
Music for your child
By the time a child is three or four years old, most parents have made millions of decisions on their child’s behalf—everything from what their child plays with, listens to, eats or wears. The decisions are endless, but fortunately for parents they are also transforming.
“In small steps, as well as in the occasional huge, scary leap, parents become comfortable and knowledgeable about what is important to them and their child,” said Noel Liberty, director of The Music Studio. “Of course, when a child is three or four years old, the decisions get more complicated and the ripples from those decisions extend much further.”
That is why summer is such a good time for parents to start thinking about the kind of music education they want for their child. Few decisions in the life of a parent are more important than those concerning the kind and type of education their child will receive.
For those beginning to plan, Liberty recommends that music education begin at three years of age. “Young children tend to experience music with their entire bodies. They can’t listen without movement. They hear with their ears, but they feel it and show it with their hands and feet. The child who gets a chance to play with music in this way will approach actually playing music differently.”
Liberty also feels that it can be important to let a child visit a class or take part in a “practice” class first. “Some kids are great with new experiences, but some want to dip just their toes in first. Do what’s best for your child,” she said.
Finally, think about what you want your child to receive from their music education. There is much evidence that points to the developmental benefits of music education, but that is far less important than the joy a lifelong love of music can give. Compare it to buying art for an investment purpose, which experts say is a bad idea. Rather, they recommend buying art you love. With music education, it’s the same. It shouldn’t be about better SAT scores, but about bringing a love of music into your child’s life.
The Music Studio is located at 1237 Central Avenue, Albany. For more information call 459.7799.
10 things to do with your kids on a rainy day
By Mike Ceonzo
1) Let’s the kids raid the attic and dress up in old clothes—it’s a good way to put those antique garments to good use. This always seems to be funnier with very small kids, especially when they decide to wear hats as wide as the kids themselves are tall.
2) Build a fort. Who doesn’t recall ever doing this in their childhood? Grab a bunch of chairs from the dining room with a couple of couch cushions, add some blankets and sheets, and you’re in business. A great touch is to make an official “flag” from a good-sized scrap of cloth and hang it from a coat rack. They’ll lurk in there for hours.
3) Help bolster their memory skills. Have them take a good hard look at one of the rooms in your house. Then shoo them out of it and hide three of the room’s objects. Send the kids back in, and have them try to guess what went missing. Not only does this drive them nuts.
4) If there are a good number of kids in the house, demonstrate for them how hard it can be to NOT laugh. Have them sit in a circle with straight faces, while one of them starts bursting out in laughter. After a bit, he should stop, “wipe” the smile off his face, and “toss” it to somebody else, calling out his or her name. The smile recipient should then start laughing, and so on and so forth.
5) Remember the marble race craze back in the 1980s? Bring it back to life. Save up a load of paper towel and toilet paper tubes and cut them in half lengthwise, making a huge group of slides. Tape them up on the walls in some kind of crazy pattern, and drop marbles one by one on the top tube. Put something noisy at the bottom to catch the marbles in.
6) Reintroduce your kids to the joys of having pets. If you haven’t yet put those old clothes back up in the attic, then dress up your pooch in some kind of crazy outfit. Be sure to take plenty of photos. If you have cats, you can put on a show with them for the kids by shining a laser pointer on the walls and moving it around rapidly. Cats go absolutely wild for those things, and will chase them around nonstop.
7) As the day goes by, it’s almost easy to forget that Mother Nature herself supplies you with an excellent entertainment outlet. Assuming they’re brave enough, have them sit by a good-sized window—from a safe distance, of course—and let them marvel in the booming thunder and flashes of lightning. It’s like a pyrotechnic light show in your own yard.
8) The kids will undoubtedly get exhausted from all these wild activities after awhile. It’s the perfect time and place to have a house-wide nap session. The best part comes when they’re finally asleep, so you can have some time to get chores done or just relax.
9) Believe it or not, even the thrill of the hunt can be embraced by the kids on rainy days. Set up a scavenger hunt throughout the house and have them seek out a list of random, obscure things. Better yet, place a tiny object – a thimble, a button, etc. – somewhere within eyesight and have them seek it out one by one.
10) Once the kids whip themselves up a major appetite, give them one of the joys of the outdoors with everything except the actual outdoors part. Spread a blanket on the floor of you living room or family room, fill a basket up with food, and have an indoor picnic with the kids. It’s all the joys of a regular picnic without having to worry about ants getting into your food.
Children’s health Q & A
Q: I know it’s important to provide healthy snacks for my children, but I need some help deciding what is healthy.
A: Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are appropriate times for scheduled snacks that would complement wholesome meal offerings. The same principals apply to all foods offered—they should be based on whole grains, plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Avoid foods that are highly refined or processed, sugar-laden, or high in saturated fats. Taking time to read labels is an essential step in improving the nutrition of your family.
Nut butters are a favorite with children. There is the standard peanut butter, however, I would also encourage you to give almond butter a try. It has superior nutritional qualities, although it is more expensive. Other unusual butters include cashew and sesame seed. Avoid any nut butter products with partially hydrogenated oils/fats or added sugar. Try them on whole grain crackers, whole-wheat tortillas, rice cakes, whole grain freezer waffles, celery, jicama or apple slices. Low-fat cheeses also pair well with many of these items. Whole-fruit preserves, made without sugar, will often be a welcome complement to nut butter on grains.
Smoothies are delicious and can be very nutritious when prepared with frozen fruits, 100 percent fruit juice, plain yogurt or soft silken tofu. Fruit freezes skip the yogurt or tofu and use ice instead. Leftovers of both can be frozen in ice cube trays for a future quick snack, especially welcome on a hot summer day. Other creative uses of fruit include fruit kabobs, baked apples, homemade fruit sauces or homemade fruit sorbets. Don’t forget to help your child with her daily fruit quota by adding fruit to plain yogurt, nonfat granola, or a whole grain cereal with low fat milk or soy milk.
Vegetables take on new life when dipped in bean dips, such as hummus, or low fat creamy dips, such as onion dip. Try carrot sticks, celery, jicama, green or red pepper slices, green beans, broccoli or cherry tomatoes, to name a few. Avocado is a source of healthy fat and can be sliced, diced or mashed. A family favorite in our home is guacamole dip with blue or red corn chips (the colored corn has more nutritional value). Salsa is another healthy dipping sauce. For something truly new and kid–friendly try edamame-soy beans in the pod. They are found in the freezer section, and steam quickly. Children love to pop them out of their pods.
Trail mixes are versatile and useful to have ready when the munchies hit. You can make your own, designing it to comply with your family’s tastes. Consider the variety of nuts, seeds and dried, unsweetened fruits available in the bulk isles of health food stores or the health food sections of local grocery stores. One example combines almonds, unsalted sunflower seeds, plain pumpkin seeds, soynut crunchies, raisins and dried cranberries. Some mixes might include pieces of whole grain cereals.
Fortunately, there are many resources available in health-oriented cookbooks and on the Internet. Bon-appetite!
Q: My son seems to get upset over such minor things. What can I do to help him relax?
A: Emotional upset is a normal response to stressors in a child’s life. It is important to remember that what adults consider minor problems may be very serious to the child, and that children are very sensitive barometers for stress in their environment. Stress in children is often associated with change, instability or ongoing conflict.
It is not uncommon for stressed children to show their feelings through acting out in anger, withdrawing, sadness, fear, anxiety, poor coping skills or displaying physical symptoms. Therefore, one of the best skills we can teach children is to verbalize their feelings. Healthy verbalization allows the child to get beyond the behavior or symptom to address the deeper concern or need. Perhaps a journal for writing thoughts and feelings, and paper for drawing, would be useful tools. Through this process you also provide valuable support by acknowledging that your child’s feelings are important.
Children have many natural stress relievers at their disposal. Take advantage of their ability to be silly, play and laugh—all superb stress management tools. Tell a joke, break out in song, encourage plenty of time for free play, and time alone to explore their inner world. Their imagination and active fantasy life allow for easy adaptation of breathwork, visualization, guided imagery, hypnotherapy and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Imagery, in particular, is a wonderful vehicle to bring a child to a place in his mind where he can feel relaxed, comfortable and safe. Proper belly breathing is easy, and can be done anywhere, at anytime. It can be combined nicely with PMR, to relax the body, and imagery, to relax the mind. Children’s yoga is a delightful way for children to get exercise, learn to breathe for relaxation and to use their imaginations. There are many books and tapes available to help parents with these techniques, as well as certified practitioners in our area. Parents also need to remember to monitor their own stress levels and understand how their stress may affect their child.
Attending to the other basics of good health is also important to manage stress. Be certain your child supports his body and mind with regular exercise, nutritious food and adequate sleep.
Q: What are some natural approaches to treating cuts and scrapes?
A: Cuts and scrapes are an inevitable part of growing up. Minor injuries can often be treated at home, with attention to cleansing and disinfecting. Wash any break in the skin with a generous amount of water, and soap if available, and remove any particles of dirt or foreign matter. Continue to keep the area clean, but dry, during the healing process. Stop any persistent bleeding with firm pressure, using sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Ice will also help to slow bleeding, and can be particularly soothing for an injury in the mouth. Cover the wound with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment of your choice to speed healing and prevent infection. For a herbal alternative, use calendula gel or ointment, sage ointment, or goldenseal paste made from the powder of a capsule. In a pinch, raw, unprocessed honey is also a natural antiseptic that can be applied directly to a wound. Aloe Vera gel can be soothing to broken skin. Be aware that wounds on the face, fingers and hands are particularly vulnerable to infection due to lack of coverage by clothing. An adhesive bandage and regular inspection will help prevent infection. If you have concerns that an infection has developed please see your health care provider for evaluation. In addition, take care to keep your child up-to-date on his or her tetanus immunization.
Wounds on the face and lips may need closer evaluation by your health care provider to prevent scarring. If bleeding does not stop within 10 to 15 minutes, if edges of the skin are separated, or the wound is open, deep or large, see a health care provider immediately. Wounds that are severe or dirty may require special attention to cleansing.
Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Please consult a medical practitioner regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical conditions.
Ann Carey Tobin, M.D. is a board certified family physician, with fellowship training in women’s health and integrative medicine. Her integrative medicine practice, Partners in Healing, is located in Delmar. She can be reached at 518.506.6303, by e-mail at email@example.com, or visit www.partnersinhealing.byregion.net.
Day tripping with ease
At this time of year our thoughts always turn to summer outings with the family. While vacations are great, most families spend much more time on weekend camping trips, a day to the museum, or an afternoon at the amusement park. If the kid’s behavior is respectful and appropriate, such daytrips are a source of pleasure and enjoyment.
On the other hand, if your kids are whining, complaining and unhappy, your efforts to create a wonderful experience will only end in frustration, disappointment, and, at times, anger. However, there is a simple formula to create consistently pleasurable and enjoyable daytrips.
As with all parenting practices, the real power comes from your repeated willingness to establish situations where children can learn how healthy behavior serves them…as well as the rest of the family. This implies the need for practice and you’ll notice that this is built into my plan.
1. Empower everyone in the family. Do this by giving everyone a voice in the types of daytrips the family will take. Try to make sure that each child’s interests are kept in mind as decisions are made.
2. Ultimately, Mom and dad are the decision makers. After getting the input, let your kids know that you will ultimately decide about when and where the family will go. You would not imply that the kids are the decision makers—that will get you in trouble.
3. We only travel in peace. Let the kids know in advance that the car will only move, when there is no fighting, bickering, complaining, arguing, whining, hitting, or anything that distracts the driver. Instead, the car will immediately stop. When the kids do start fighting, pull over, without saying a word, and sit until everyone is quiet. At that point, let the kids know it will be five minutes before you begin. At the end of five minutes of silence, renew the journey…but only if the car is peaceful.
4. You don’t always get what you want. Without repeated lectures, have this simple conversation with the kids—one time and one time only. Remind them that sometimes they’ll get what they want and sometimes they will not. Sometimes you’ll go where they want to go and sometimes you will not. Sometimes they will get to eat what they want and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will get home when they want and sometimes they will not. This is reality. Get over it.
5. We only play in peace. Finally, explain to the kids that regardless of whether or not they are happy on a particular daytrip, it will likely be better that they keep their unhappiness to themselves. Remember: you don’t always get what you want. Let them know that any complaining, whining, fighting, arguing, or difficult behavior will result in an immediate timeout. Regardless of where you’re at, or what the circumstances are, simply walk that child to a quiet area (which sometimes may be back to the car) and sit with them until they are completely calm and quiet and then have a five-minute time out. Do not talk with them. Do not rationalize with them, and do not explain this again, because you explained it all before you left. Notice a common theme in this plan. You have informed the kids clearly about your expectations and limits on their behavior. However, you don’t repeat this over and over and you don’t negotiate and argue with the kids. Instead, you become parents of action rather than words.
Keep this focus throughout the summer, and your daytrips will quickly become glorious. While you might anticipate the first couple of trips will be a bit tough, you’ll see how quickly kids learn. It’s truly amazing how quickly and easily they begin to adapt when you allow the consequences of their choices to teach limits on their behavior. Just remember: no nagging, reminding, or warning. Ignore all the little stuff, but when it’s time to take action, do so! Let your actions teach where your words have failed.
Please email me with your comments and successes as Drcale@TerrificParenting.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a wonderful day tripping summer.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.