CLEVELAND, Ohio — As the Wellness Director at the West Shore Cleveland YMCA and a mother of two young children, Erin Troy knows how difficult it can be to ensure families maintain healthy habits.
“It’s a struggle,” admitted Troy, who is also a Personal Training Specialist at Westlake Y. “I have a picky eater — and an even pickier eater,” she said of her son Robert, 6, and daughter Sydney. 2.
She also knows the consequences of poor nutrition and too little exercise.
“Childhood obesity is an epidemic,” Troy said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 children with a body mass index over 30 is considered obese. A BMI is the ratio of height to weight; The healthy range is between 18 and 25.
Carrying too much weight can lead to a higher risk of asthma, sleep apnea, joint problems, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“These are chronic diseases that we should only see in seniors,” Troy said, adding that the trend is “frightening.”
Infection with these problems in childhood sets health patterns for the rest of their lives and even shortens life expectancy, Troy added.
“Childhood diabetes doesn’t go away,” Troy said. “It’s a lifelong disease.”
To emphasize the need for good nutrition and physical activity, September is recognized as National Childhood Obesity Month.
Good habits start at home, Troy says, and the YMCA can play a role in helping parents encourage healthy choices.
“It’s not just about the kids, it’s about the families,” Troy said.
Each Y location offers unique opportunities, from the Iron Kids fitness class in North Royalton to outdoor hikes on French Creek Y in Avon.
Several locations have Childwatch programs where the children supervised playtime while their parents exercise.
Fueling the body with the right nutrients is critical to having the energy to be active, Troy emphasized.
The Y branches have before and after school programs where children are given nutritious snacks.
West Park Y principal Kelly Williams oversees the Y Club’s after-school program, where kids get help with their homework — and a snack.
“We’re trying to do something creative,” Williams said. In one afternoon, children made edible works of art using graham crackers and cream cheese tinted with blue food coloring. The weekly menu also offers applesauce and fruit cups.
The children said their favorite healthy foods are strawberries, apples, carrots and broccoli.
“Zucchini,” one child offered. “It’s going to be a cucumber. I looked it up on the internet.”
It is important for adults to be good role models when it comes to healthy eating and introduce fresh fruit and vegetables from an early age.
“If they see you eat broccoli, they might eat broccoli,” Troy suggested.
Avoiding foods high in fat, salt and sugar is also important.
There are many conditions in our society that make it difficult for families to make the right decisions, Troy acknowledged.
Parents are busier than ever, which makes it tempting to rely on fast food or processed meals, Troy said.
Commercials promote many unhealthy products for children. Screen time eats up hours that could be spent on physical activity.
Even schools have restricted the time allotted for exercise. Troy said her son only gets gym classes every three weeks.
Physical fitness modeling is also important. Troy competes in extreme sports and long-distance running, including 100-mile marathons. Her husband Jim is a professional golf instructor at Windmill Golf Center and their son is beginning to take an interest in the sport.
When it comes to food, Troy recommended involving children in making good choices by teaching them how the right foods build their bodies.
“You’re not stupid,” she said. “Let them know why they should eat it.”
Gardening is a great way to set the table with fresh groceries while providing an outdoor workout. Visiting a U-Pick fruit farm is another option.
There are numerous websites with healthy, kid-friendly recipes.
The sooner the better when it comes to those experiences, Troy urged.
“You set the stage in your childhood,” Troy said. “Let them know how it feels to get their pulse racing or sweating.”
For fitness and other program information, visit www.clevelandymca.org.
Information from the Centers for Disease Control can be found at www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html.