Monkey see, monkey do

Our children are watching everything we do, right down to how much we move.The childhood obesity epidemic in the US has been described as a “serious public health concern”. But it is more like catastrophic. According to the CDC, in 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. One in three. And at alarm rates, our children are developing diseases usually associated with adult obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver, and joint problems. Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults,and put them at risk for risk for even more adult health problems like heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

As busy mothers struggling with our own battles, how do we combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in our children? Two words: move more. Children are watching, and may even be emulating our activity level. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at activity levels of over 550 mothers and their 4-year-olds. The study found that children were about as active as their mothers were. In other words, their activity levels matched: more active mom, more active child. But unfortunately they also found that only about half the mothers were active for 30 minutes each day. And that, on average, moms spent only 19 minutes of their waking hours each day doing moderate to vigorous activity. Which means that most of the mothers – and their children – were less active than is healthy for them.

How much activity should you be providing for your children? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. For younger children, encouraging physical activity through play instead of sedentary activities. All children should have limited “screen time“. Under the age of 2, children should have no screen time, and older children should have less than two hours of screen time daily.

From this particularly study it is not entirely clear whether the mother’s activity influences her child’s, or if mothers are more active because they are busy keeping up with a playful child. But from this, it is no surprise that the recommendations are to promote physical activity for both mothers and children (and dads, too!). But before you anxiously start rearranging other priorities to play with the children all day, know that even small changes in your every day life can have big impacts. Walk to the park instead of driving, play a game of tag instead of a board game, get outside after dinner instead of sitting in front of the television. There are countless ways to be active with your children without feeling overwhelmed or adding to the family budget. Take a look at the Let’s Move campaign for more ideas and motivation.

As “mom” you shoulder the responsibility of setting daily examples for your children, among many (many, many) other things. Being active yourself is just one more way to ensure they are on the path to a healthy lifestyle.

 

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