Childhood obesity is a battle fought in the office of every pediatrician. However when the solution to the problem lies in getting whole families to adopt lifestyle changes, it can be a frustrating fight.
Two women believe they might have the answer. Instead of teaching parents to simply push more nutritious foods on children, they say educating children about new foods and involving them in the preparation process can have a “trickle up effect” benefiting the entire family.
Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions in New York, and Antonia Demas, PhD, creator of the Food Is Elementary curriculum, have both found that by teaching children to try and create new and nutritious food, and about the health benefits of those foods, children adopt an active role in improving their health and spreading change to the rest of their families.
Childhood obesity affects roughly 17% of children and adolescents in the United States. There are many reasons children are fighting fat—sedentary lifestyles, too much television and personal media device use—but 1 theory is the increase in calorie-dense, nutrient deficient foods.
According to 1 report, families in 2010 ate 50% of their meals outside the home compared to just 2% in 1900. Another study reveals a decline in preparing and eating food at home across all socioeconomic groups.
Pediatricians struggle with ways to combat childhood obesity for many reasons, one of those being that lifestyle changes necessary to have an effect on childhood eating and lifestyle habits must involve buy-in from the entire family. Convincing families to adopt these lifestyle changes can be challenging, particularly for families short on time and not invested in the effort.
Recent updates to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) guidelines on fighting childhood obesity stress offering more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar-sweetened beverages. Yet even meals eaten at home are not necessarily healthy with more families relying on fast food, and less parents spending time cooking. According to AAP, the number of women who cooked food at home decreased from 92% in 1965 to 68% in 2007 while the number of men who cooked over the same period increased from 29% to 42%. Overall rates for cooking at home declined over that period from 67% to 56%, and the amount of time spent on food preparation was halved.