FAMILY: Families combat childhood obesity

Healthier lifestyles begin at home, with diet and physical activity

There’s a growing – and dangerous – health trend that is hurting our society at a very core level, according to Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical officer for Island Health.

It’s not actually a “trend.” Not in the way we normally think of them, anyway. It’s not a specific food that’s hot right now (like 2014’s kale obsession) or an exercise plan that’s catching hold (like yoga), but it’s a combination of factors that are leading to a systemic and societal obesity problem.

Stanwick says obesity is as big a health issue globally these days as starvation.

When he was in medical school, they “didn’t even need to know about Type-2 diabetes,” he says. “We’d just never be tested on it, because we’d never see it. Now we’re seeing it diagnosed in kids, and they’re having operations in their 20s and sometimes we’re attending their funerals in their 30s.”

One main issue is we haven’t acknowledged how bad being overweight is for us. And how we get that way – with a sedentary, screen-obsessed lifestyle – is often just as dangerous.

“Some of the more disconcerting evidence shows that their parents don’t see their child as having a weight issue,” Stanwick says, “so we really have to enlist parents and make them see this is an serious situation. They don’t see it as being on par with other illnesses. It’s becoming acceptable.”

One of the best ways to address the issue within the family unit, he says, is to start incorporating and addressing healthier lifestyles – including both physical activity and diet – into our daily routines.

“It doesn’t need to be a Leave-it-to-Beaver-type scenario or a scene from some old 50s television show, but coming together as a family to prepare meals and have activities that engage us interactively is important.”

Making meals together as a family not only encourages healthier eating, as most foods prepared fresh at home are going to be far better for us physically. It can make us think about what we’re putting in our bodies and encourage healthier decision making, especially if we discuss with our kids where the food we’re preparing comes from.

“So many pre-prepared foods have sugar listed right at the top of their ingredients,” Stanwick says. “And we have no idea what goes into it, most of the time. The type of calorie-dense food that comes from the driver-thru window – we’re just not genetically equipped for that.”

The other obvious impact on obesity and weight issues is adding exercise to one’s day-to-day activities. This is especially important for children, according to Stanwick, because physical exercise is directly tied to intellectual development.

The interactivity of children’s play these days has been pushed aside in favour of screens and other sedentary activities, he says. He recommends families get outside and enjoy being together in a positive, activity-driven way.

But it doesn’t need to be a sudden, monumental shift in order to make a positive difference, Stanwick says.

“Make it one meal a week, to start, that you make together with fresh ingredients. Go for one walk a week as a family. I’m sure you’ll see a difference, not only in a physical way, but it will impact your mood and improve many other aspects of your life, as well.”

According to this health expert, stemming the tide of obesity starts at home.