BELLE GLADE, Fla. – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Childhood Obesity Facts for Children and Adolescents (www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html), the following data has been gathered for individuals aged 2-19 years in 2017-2020:
- The prevalence of obesity was 19.7% and affected about 14.7 million children and adolescents.
- Obesity prevalence was 12.7% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.
- Obesity prevalence was 26.2% among Hispanic children, 24.8% among non-Hispanic Black children, 16.6% among non-Hispanic White children, and 9.0% among non-Hispanic Asian children.
- Obesity-related conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems.
Obesity studies conducted by the CDC focusing on adults reveal that the issue of obesity does not get any better with age, with statistics demonstrating increased prevalence (www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html).
Thus, we can agree that American society has a prevalent nutrition issue. Given that through 4-H programming we aim to provide youth the tools, resources, and knowledge to empower them to live healthy lives, the aforementioned issue is relevant and must be addressed. Fortunately, in Palm Beach County we have a Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent specializing in nutrition and food safety – Yesenia Rodriguez. Together, Yesenia and I worked to create the following guide for providing nutrition education to youth:
1) Consider External Influences
What examples are youth observing in their surroundings? Everyday happenings in their lives (family, school, friends, community functions, sports, time of the year, etc.) heavily influence what youth believe to be normal and acceptable. If unsure of what external influences are impacting the youth you care about, an excellent way to start is by observing their relationships and interactions – those serve as the basis of their influences.
It is also worth adding prior habits and reinforced behavior as external influences. Suppose youth have observed and been subject to improper nutritional practices (unhealthy meals and snacks, sugary beverages, etc.) for some time in their lives. In that case, they are being asked to unlearn old behavior and relearn new ones. In such case, patience and grace are highly recommended to observe consistent behavior change.
2) Lead By Example
Research shows youth tend to replicate the behaviors of parents, guardians, and trusting adults in their lives. If a particular behavior and/or practice is asked of youth, they are more likely to comply if they see the trusted adults in their lives abide by such. This is not only applicable to nutrition education, but to any concept and behavior you as adults desire youth to learn.
Within this topic, please remember that one of the most significant nuggets of information you can teach youth is a lack of perfection found in every person and admitting when you have made a mistake. View improved nutritional practices as a journey – not a sprint – in which you try to change your quality of life. In every journey, there are deviations that are allowed, as long as the average continues to improve.
3) Utilize Existing Resources
Changing behavior can be challenging. Fortunately, there are many resources (many published by UF/IFAS faculty and staff) to assist with ideas, tips, and guides for implementing positive nutritional practices (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/health_and_nutrition). 4-H also has a variety of Healthy Living projects and resources available to youth and families (florida4h.ifas.ufl.edu/projects/healthy-living).
An Additional Consideration…
Every person deals with varying degrees of mental health – youth included. Here are some additional things to keep in mind:
- Youth Stressors
Research shows that youth today are enduring increased stress, anxiety, and social pressures (www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html).
If youth in your life are demonstrating improper nutritional habits, it may not be defiance but a desire for comfort.
- Lead by Example
There are certain seasons with increased societal expectations regarding food. Examples include November & December holidays, Summer, Spring Break, and additional breaks in which youth may be home from school.
- Approach to Providing Correction
As adults, we must be mindful of our approach to youth demonstrating improper nutritional habits. Given our correction derives from good intentions, we want to be sure it does not come across as humiliating and degrading to a child. Constructive criticism is best provided in private, in the absence of stressors, with a solution-driven plan forward.
A guide to youth mental health resources can be found at: https://youth.gov/youth-topics/youth-mental-health.
If you would like this information synthesized, please visit the fact sheet on Steps to Provide Nutrition Education to Youth (http://bit.ly/3YW3JBr). If you are you are interested in learning more, please contact your local Extension Office today!
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.