Gone are the days of meeting at the swing set, hosting pool parties and heading to the skating rink. Today, young girls are far more interested in a sedentary lifestyle (even more than boys) and spend most of their time on their cell phones, computers and watching TV. In fact, according to a recent study, most 8-10 year old girls only spend about 17 minutes a day being active. The recommended amount? 60 minutes.
Recent studies also report that because of the obesity rise in children, young girls are experiencing the effects of puberty earlier than ever before. In fact, some girls are experiencing signs of puberty as early as 5 years old!!! The average age of puberty onset in girls has dropped by 5 years in the last century—and we have the obesity epidemic to blame for it.
But why is there a bigger rise in girl obesity than obesity in young boys? There are many factors that play a role:
- Sports just “aren’t cool”: According to recent studies, girls lead a more sedentary lifestyle than boys partially because sports just “aren’t cool” or are not regarded as highly as they are for boys.
- New tech trends: Instead of spending their time doing outdoor activities, young girls would rather spend time in front of the television, computer or smartphone. New developments in kid-friendly technology could be another factor of obesity in young girls. Children as young as 4 years old own iPhones today!!
- Stress: Another factor of obesity in young girls could be early stressors. In the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Shakira Suglia found that stressful home life predisposes young girls to early onset obesity. In fact, girls are twice as likely to be obsese if their mothers had reported experiencing two or more stressors at age 3 (these stressors could include divorce, violence, depression and other disruptions). In recent studies, it was found that boys do not follow this same obesity pattern. Although there is no clear reason why, many researchers believe that boys cope with stress by being more physically active.
- High fructose corn syrup: Hand a kid some applesauce, a Capri Sun or a bottle of ketchup and you’re serving them a fresh order of high fructose corn syrup. The number of products that contain high fructose corn syrup are growing—and so are children’s waistlines.
So what can we do? The only way to prevent our young girls from suffering from obesity is to raise awareness…NOW!!
- Teach obesity at a young age: It’s important that children are aware of what obesity is at a young age. Obesity should be brought to the attention of schools as well as parents. Make young girls in particular aware of the problem and some key steps to stay healthy.
- Provide children with proper nutrition: Always make sure young children get a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as snacks in between. Encourage your children to eat proteins for breakfast and vegetables as snacks. If you’re packing your child’s school lunch, keep it nutritious (a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with mustard, carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, a bottled water and a Jello pack). Make sure dinner is a big deal in the home—try to sit down with the family for dinner as much as possible and teach how important a balanced dinner is.
- Encourage exercise, activity and sports: Sign children up for sports and activities early on in life. Check out little leagues, school sports and always encourage your children to play outside when it’s nice out. When your children go out to play, take away their cell phones or any other electronics. Finally, if daughter does not seem interested in sports, try signing her up for a different activity such as cheerleading, dance or horseback riding.
- Teach meal-planning skills: Ask your child to prepare lunch or dinner with you once a week. Showing them what goes into preparing a healthy meal will educate them for making food for themselves in the future.
- Be open and supportive: Last, but certainly not least, remember to always be open and supportive with your children. If they have questions about obesity, answer them to the best of your ability. If your child is ever expressing thoughts of self-consciousness about his or her body, be sure to address them with a pediatrician or child psychologist.