Whether currently at a healthy weight, overweight, or at risk of becoming obese, everyone can take steps to prevent weight gain from unhealthy habits and health problems. Preventing obesity or unwanted weight gain is similar in action steps to losing weight, and involves changes in lifestyle, like a healthy diet, exercise and a long-term commitment towards healthy habits.
Let’s take a look at how obesity can be prevented in adults and children and young adults:
Preventing obesity in adults
Strategies for preventing obesity involve improving one’s eating habits and increasing physical activity to result in weight loss and maintenance. These include:
- Including fruits and vegetables in diet – A good daily diet consists of five to six servings of fruits and vegetables. One vegetable serving equals one cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables or its juice, and one fruit serving refers to a piece of small to medium sized fresh fruit, or one-half cup of fresh or canned fruit or fruit juice, or one-fourth cup of dried fruit.
- Including whole grain foods like whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Avoiding processed foods like those made from refined sugars, saturated fats and flour should be avoided.
- Saying no to junk food or foods high in ‘energy density’ – Burgers and fries are examples of energy dense foods that pack in a lot of calories in a small amount. Good substitutes can be a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain burger with salad and low-fat dressing. Desserts choices can also be switched from calorie-laden pies and cakes to fruits or a small piece of food cake.
- Eating moderate portion sizes – Good choices in serving sizes, whether at home or at a restaurant, can be helpful in keeping away excess calories. Weighing or measuring food at home or avoiding super-sized, extra-big menu items when eating out can help achieve it.
- Being physically active – Weight loss depends on burning more calories than those being consumed. Including at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of week can help lose or maintain weight, whichever is the goal. Further, small steps like walking instead of taking the car, choosing stairs instead of lift, etc. go a long way in burning calories during the day.
Keeping obesity at bay in children and adolescents
Early childhood is an important phase for preventing obesity, as children are only beginning to develop taste preferences, learning to include walks and play in their routine, and picking up behaviours of their parents and caretakers, which may be both healthy or unhealthy.
Balance is key in maintaining a healthy weight, which translates into achieving balance in the number of calories earned through food and the calories burned through growth and physical activity. However, a child must not be put on a weight-loss diet without consulting a doctor, as reducing weight must not affect normal growth and development.
Parents can initiate simple steps towards a healthy lifestyle to prevent obesity and overweight during childhood and adolescence:
- Encouraging healthy eating habits – Vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry and fish must form part of a child’s meals. Portions should be reasonably sized and cooking methods can be modulated to create healthy dishes of some favourite recipes.
- Avoid calorie-laden tempting foods and beverages – It might be okay to give in to high-sugar, high-fat or salty foods once a while, but these should be avoided on a routine basis. While these foods may taste great, they are packed with large amounts of calories in a small size, and will leave children hungry for more.
- Making children understand the concept of being physically active – Children should be encouraged to play sports, exercise or join an activity that interests them to obtain health benefits like strong bones, normal blood pressure, reduced stress, high self-esteem and weight management. Children and teenagers must be involved in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.
- Limiting sedentary time – While quiet time for reading and homework is fine, the time spent watching television or playing games on computer or video consoles must not exceed two hours a day.
- Being a role model to children – Children and teens pick most of their habits from their parents. Parents who make efforts to stay fit and eat healthy are most likely to increase the chances of their children following suit. Children can also be encouraged into fun activities that the whole family can enjoy and participate in.
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