We all know how easy it is for most grown-ups to gain weight during the holiday season.
Unless we work hard to avoid it, we adults can expect to tack on a pound or two of added weight between Halloween and New Year’s Day. That’s extra bulk that most of us will be fighting to lose for most of 2011, until the next holiday season rolls around.
Now there is evidence that the same risks of holiday weight gain are true for children, especially those who are overweight already.
Mix large amounts of tempting holiday foods with more time off from school to indulge in sedentary pursuits like watching television and playing computer games, and you have a “perfect storm” for kids to put on unwanted pounds, just as adults tend to do at this time of year.
Food is an important part of holiday celebrations, and no one wants children to be deprived of the special tastes that are part of many family traditions. Visions of sugar plums and other seasonal treats have a rightful place for children in this magical season – but conscientious parents know that calorie-rich foods must be approached in moderation.
So what can a parent or caregiver do to see that their kids enjoy this year’s festive season without gaining unnecessary weight? Here are some tips:
Maintain your child’s regular eating schedule, including a hearty breakfast, as best you can. This will make it less likely that later in the day she will devour excessive amounts of holiday candies, cookies and other treats – items that are almost impossible to avoid during the holiday months.
If you know you are going to a party or another gathering where food will be available, fill your child up a bit beforehand with healthy foods like cut fruit or baby carrots. Again, he will be less tempted to overdo it on the party foods.
Set a rule with your child that limits her to just one dessert.
Don’t keep non-nutritious holiday snacks and sugary drinks around your house. Make healthy snacks of fruits and vegetables available for your child instead. If you bake your own cookies, use a smaller cookie cutter to reduce the mass of cookies your child will eat.
Encourage your child to eat slowly at family feasts and other meals. By savoring each bite he will feel full sooner and be less likely to demand seconds.
Politely ask friends and relatives not to furnish your child with large amounts of unhealthy foods, or to purchase them as gifts for your child.
Reducing the risk of overeating is just half of the battle. Winning the holiday weight game also requires a stepped-up commitment to helping your children burn their excess calories through physical activity. Here are some tips for parents on that score:
Set aside at least an hour for the family to engage in moderately vigorous physical activity each day – starting now. Such activity includes games that involve running or jumping, or such activities as biking, swimming or skateboarding.
Limit screen time to less than two hours per day, and discourage it altogether for children under two years of age.
Organize backyard football games, neighborhood walks and other outdoor activities before and after holiday feasts.
Get your children to join into active party games and dances that you include in the holiday gatherings at your home.
Consider purchasing holiday presents for your child that will encourage physical activity, such as bikes, skateboards, balls and skipping ropes.
The holiday season is fraught with weighty risks for children growing up in today’s world. But if you plan ahead, anticipating the risks, the chances are good that you can keep your child on a healthy path without missing any of the fun the season brings.
(Dr. Eberhart-Phillips is the Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to his blog at: www.kdheks.gov/blogs/dr_jasons_blogs.htm