Roughly one in three American children is overweight or obese. Those children face an increased risk of health problems like heart disease and diabetes, both as kids and into adulthood.
Childhood obesity is usually caused by three factors: genetics, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. There's not much parents can do about the first one, but a few simple dietary and exercise tweaks can dramatically help the other two.
Swapping sugar- and calorie-laden foods and drinks out for healthier options like fruits and vegetables can be a critical part of keeping kids healthy. But it's a common belief that eating healthy costs too much in time, money and energy.
Fortunately, more and more fast food restaurants and supermarkets have been making an effort to offer healthier, accessible choices right next to the junk food.
It might not even be that much more expensive either. A 2013 Harvard study found on average, a healthy diet costs just $1.50 more per day than an unhealthy one.
Click through to see 5 surprising foods that can cause weight gain:
5 surprising foods that can cause weight gain
A few simple choices can help fight childhood obesity
1. Diet Soda. Researchers believe that when we eat or drink something that tastes sweet, our bodies expect calories. When the calories aren’t there, like in artificially sweetened sodas (or even those “naturally-sweetened” with Stevia or Erythritol), our bodies react by slowing metabolism, responding poorly to insulin, storing fat or doing other metabolically wacky things. Artificial sweeteners have actually been linked to long-term weight gain.
What to choose instead: water, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water with a splash of juice, water infused with cucumber and mint
2. Low-Fat Foods. When people think something is low-fat they eat more of it – about 30% more – whether or not the food has fewer calories. So those who buy the low-fat version of their favorite foods may find themselves slowly gaining weight rather than losing it.
What to choose instead: Small portions of the real thing.
3. Fresh Juice. Though juicing is all the rage, it won’t lead to better health unless you swap it for some of what you’re currently eating. And even then, you’d be better off eating the veggies and fruits in whole food form, to capture all the volume and fiber.
What to choose instead: Lots of whole fruits and veggies in all meals and snacks.
4. Granola. Oats, seeds and nuts are healthy, but when dunked in oil, honey and sugar they become more like a cookie. Many granolas do have nutritious properties, but the 1/4 cup serving is a lot smaller than you think and eating even two servings can easily set you back 400 calories or more.
(Photo: Kitchen Daily)
What to choose instead: Whole grain cereal, or granola in small amounts (measure out 1/4 cup and stick to it).
5. Sushi. The fish and vegetable components of sushi are healthy, but when they’re smothered with creamy sauces or covered in fried dough and rolled in white rice, sushi goes quickly downhill. One roll can easily contain 500 calories!
What to choose instead: Have a few pieces of your favorite sushi roll along with a salad, miso soup and edamame. Or, choose rolls that are heavy on the veggies and don’t contain mayonnaise or fried ingredients.
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Changing your child's diet can also be just as simple as making healthy foods more accessible. It's easier for hungry kids to make better choices if the chips are on a hard-to-reach shelf but the apples are sitting right in front of them.
Diet is only part of the picture, though. Staying healthy also requires physical activity. If you can, find ways to get your child off the couch and out into the sunshine.
Introducing limits on TV and computer time is an effective, if emotionally fraught, way to encourage more physical activity. After-school sports and clubs can also be a good motivator.
It helps to get the whole family involved as well: It's easier for kids to stay active if they have an adult role model. Taking walks together, playing sports or even just hitting the gym yourself can help encourage healthy activity at home.
Childhood obesity is a problem, but fighting it doesn't have to be a major headache. A few simple adjustments can go a long way toward giving children a healthier lifestyle.