Doctors Are Concerned About This New Effect of Shutdowns on Our Nation’s Children

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We’ve all been home more this year due to lockdowns and restrictions that have changed or cancelled our family’s plans.

While all that quality time has its benefits, we’re also more likely to fall prey to picking up unhealthy habits during times of stress, uncertainty, and boredom.

And experts in the medical community are concerned about an alarming trend that may be stemming from this year’s pandemic, that has little to do with the virus itself.

Most of us work hard to keep our kids on a good routine, but when that routine is disrupted, it can be difficult to right the ship.

On television and social media, Americans are joking about the “quarantine 15,” the extra weight many of us have gained by staying close to home, seeing stressful changes in our routines, and feeling bored and unmotivated.

As schools shut down last spring and families held off on many of their normal summer activities, our children have spent more time in front of the TV, computer, or cell phone.

And as parents returned to work or adapted to new work-from-home schedules, it’s been easy to let our priorities slide as we tried to survive from one day to the next.

But now, pediatricians are already seeing the consequences of all those extra sedentary hours – the cancelled sports and summer activities – combined with the startling trend of eating unhealthy comfort foods too often without exercise.

In the most recent national study of childhood obesity done in 2016, one of every five children in the U.S. was found to be overweight or obese, practicing unhealthy habits of poor diet and lack of movement.

This number had remained steady, rather than increasing over the last few years.  But pediatricians know that children are more likely to gain weight and be less active during breaks from school, such as summer and holidays.

Screen time has been a big factor in the rise in childhood obesity in the last decade, but doctors are warning that we’re soon to see childhood obesity numbers skyrocket as children are kept from their normal activities.

And as we enter cold and flu season, many of us spend less time outdoors being active, and poor diet and lack of exercise can compromise immunity.

While we’ve all seen the tips and guidelines for maintaining routine and healthy habits during “quarantine,” it’s often harder than it seems for busy parents to keep track of everything on their plates right now.

Experts agree – the key to keeping our kids, and ourselves, on track is to make it fun!

As many schools continue to hold classes virtually, and kids are still at home more often than not, it’s vital we refocus our efforts on keeping the family healthy.

Apart from the unavoidable time spent in front of a screen while distance learning, limits on screen time are more important than ever.

So too is structure, especially when it comes to sleep and activity.  Children should be maintaining their wake/sleep schedules instead of sleeping in and staying up late, and exercise and active play should be part of every day.

Depending on the weather, daily walks, playing catch in the yard, or even helping clean up all those falling leaves are good for the whole family.

Mealtimes should be regular, and snacks should be limited.  Many parents ration out their child’s snacks for the day, for example, in a small basket or bin in the fridge, portioning out fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, and other easy-to-eat healthy options.

Making snacks fun and healthy will help kids to readily adopt these habits for a lifetime.  They can make their own yogurt parfaits with healthy toppings, mini pizzas they decorate themselves with lots of veggies, or fruit and veggie plates cut into fun shapes.

While many Americans have felt like so much is out of our control this year, teaching our kids to take care of themselves is something we can control – and model to them ourselves.

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Family grocery trips, meal planning and cooking together, and even fun and colorful charts that mark their intake of healthy foods can all help to make these habits more fun.

Come up with active games, have a fall picnic in the backyard (and the Vitamin D from time in the sunshine helps boost immunity!), and establish “screen-free” zones in the house.

Be creative and find ways to make being home fun, and plan activities that kids can do alone while parents are working.  (Scavenger hunts and physical games like hide and seek and charades are great options.)

It’s not always easy to stay organized enough to plan ahead when it comes to meals, snacks, games and activities.

But when we take the time to plan ahead and give our children healthy options, they’ll be far less likely to sit on the couch and mindlessly snack or play video games.

Whether we’re busy or not, this is part of the parental job requirement – making sure our kids stay healthy and safe, no matter what circumstances we may be dealing with.

And when it’s a family affair, it becomes that much easier to stick to it, and have fun while staying healthy!

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