A recent CDC study revealed that Latino children are becoming obese at an alarming rate, with Hispanic boys ages 2-19 more likely to become obese than children of other US ethnic groups. We reached out to Miami-based family and children fitness coach Nohelia Siddons to find out more about this growing problem and what steps families can take to fight obesity at home.
· The gorditos philosophy: The Latin American notion that a plump child is a healthy one ("los niños gorditos son niños saludables") may have have its roots in that many years ago the skinniest children got sick frequently or even died from malnutrition. We know now that's no longer the case, yet we've got some tias who still love to pinch our cheeks and abuelas who insist on keeping you fed at all hours of the day.
· Lack of physical activity: According to a recent study, Hispanic kids spend more time in front of the TV than playing outside with their friends. Add to that the availability of video games and computers in the home, and you end up with children that don't even consider play and exercise a part of their lives- a recipe for a long-term health disaster.
· The "clean your plate" syndrome: Children in Hispanic families are not only expected to eat everything on their plate, but are many times served adult-sized portions creating "portion distortion." In other words, the amount of food Hispanic kids are consuming is well above what is considered normal or healthy for their age.
· Lack of good information and effective tools: "Parents need to be proactive and creative when it comes to helping their kids avoid obesity", says Siddons. Ask questions, search for information and try to find out what are the best ways to encourage your children to form a healthy lifestyle.
TIPS: What can parents do?
· Take a look at yourself, first and foremost: "Examine your eating habits, your physical activity, and ask what am I doing wrong?" says the family coach. Parents cannot help their children until they eat healthy and keep active themselves. According to Siddons, kids listen to 80% of what you do and 20% of what you say, so parents must lead by example before they place expectations on their children.
· Make sure you understand what motivates your child: What are your child's interests? What makes him "tick"? Once you know what his or her preferences are, design activities around what motivates them. Do they like to spend time with friends? Invite them over for play-time. Do they want to hang more with a parent? Go outdoors and run, walk or play with him, and find activities that you both enjoy.
· Don't ever force your child: Compelling a child to do something against his or her will, even if it's for health, may backfire. Unless, prescribed by a pediatrician, don't force your child to follow a diet or exercise. It can make the situation worse, and the child may grow up to hate the very healthy lifestyle you're trying to impose.
For more on childhood obesity, check out this video:
Nohelia Siddons is a Venezuelan-born family and children fitness trainer based in Miami, FL. She is the founder of Move with Nohelia: The Child Obesity Movement for the Latin Community. Her passion for children's health and fitness has led her to become a voice for families within the Latin community by bringing awareness to the child obesity epidemic. For more information, visit her page http://www.fitnessandmind.com/