First Things First Blog: Parents/Caregivers are Allies in Battle Against Early Childhood Obesity

It is never too early to start  teaching young kids the basics of nutrition and the value of exercise, which does more than keep them fit.

It is never too early to start teaching young kids the basics of nutrition and the value of exercise, which does more than keep them fit.

"The teaching of rising with the sun and holy people through physical activity and healthy living has shown me that there is a purpose that our grandparents and parents tell us to wake up, stretch and run to the east. This is because they want us to live a healthy lifestyle," shared Cassandra Bitsuie, Health Educator for the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Program on Navajo Nation.

Bitsuie works with center and home-based providers on Navajo Nation to create the best possible conditions for toddlers and preschoolers to eat healthy and increase physical activity. These days, Bitsuie is constantly on guard against early obesity, which threatens children's health, happiness and long term potential.

Health statistics show that childhood obesity tends to follow kids through adolescence and into adulthood. A child who is obese at age 6 stands a 50% chance of still being obese at age 35. In fact, kids as young as 5 are showing risk factors for adult maladies, like heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In the short term, studies found obese children more vulnerable to negative stereotyping, which can damage their peer relationships and self-esteem.

"Starting from a mother's womb is where we should start healthy eating; and, healthy habits start with parents. Like they say 'Monkey see, monkey do.' Everything that the child sees you do, he or she will most likely copy you. Because the early years are when our children's brain develops [the most]. Starting now, from birth to 5, the young child needs to practice healthy habits. The child will benefit from living a healthy lifestyle, more energy, more active and a healthier path on the corn pollen road of life through Nitsáhákees (Thinking), Nahat'á (Planning), Iiná (Living) and Sihasin (Assuring)," added Bitsuie.

The website HealthFinder.gov compiled a list of tips to help families fight the battle of the bulge together. Some tips include:

Eat healthier.

• Start the day with a good breakfast.

• Serve more vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods and low-fat meats or dairy.

• Buy less processed or fast food.

• Let your child pick out healthy foods to try.

• Limit sugary drinks or snacks.

• Sit at the table and eat together as a family.

Limit screen time.

• Keep screen time to 2 hours or less a day for kids age 2 and older. No screen time is recommended for kids under 2.

• Set clear rules about when and for how long your child can watch TV, use the computer, and play video games.

• Keep the TV out of your child's room.

Get active as a family.

• Make physical activity part of your family's daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together.

• Give your children equipment that encourages physical activity.

• Take young people to places where they can be active, such as public parks, community baseball fields or basketball courts.

• Let children pick family activities.

Make sure kids get enough sleep.

• Set and keep a sleep routine for your child.

• Preschoolers sleep between 11 and 12 hours a day.

• Newborns sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day.

It is never too early to start teaching young kids the basics of nutrition and the value of exercise, which does more than keep them fit. It builds a body that will serve them well as they learn, help them grow strong, and age gracefully.

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