Inspiring young people to take ownership of their health
Young people get a lot of conflicting messages about health. They’re constantly told by parents and teachers that healthy eating and exercise are important.
At the same time, they live in a world where they’re bombarded by colorful, highly targeted ads that have been carefully crafted to make them crave sugary sweets and fatty fast foods.
Throw in some unrealistic depictions of beauty that are ubiquitous across both social and mainstream media, and it’s little wonder that so many children are struggling with their health and wellbeing.
Childhood obesity on the rise
The World Health Organization describes childhood obesity as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.” China is experiencing these challenges first hand. A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that 1 in 5 Chinese children is overweight or obese, up from just 1 in 20 in 1995.
“This is extremely worrying,” says Professor Joep Perk, cardiovascular prevention spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology. “China is set for an escalation of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and the popularity of the Western lifestyle will cost lives.”
What can we do about it?
Strong-arming our kids into running laps and eating salads isn’t going to have a long-term positive outcome. With this approach, children are always going to feel like it’s a chore - that they’re doing it out of obligation to their parents. As you might imagine, this can breed resistance and resentment and, when the opportunity arises, it’s more than likely that they’ll drop the healthy act.
Instead, we should be supporting our children to take ownership of their health from a young age.
This means not only teaching kids about the importance of exercise and healthy eating, but giving them space to reflect on how their lifestyle choices might affect their personal wellbeing.
As young people develop a stronger sense of self, they get a better understanding of how their actions impact their bodies and are therefore more inclined to make healthy decisions.
It’s important to remember that the goal here isn’t to simply eliminate junk food. It’s about giving young people the opportunity to make real, informed decisions about what they choose to eat and how they choose to exercise. Ultimately, it’s about making positive, sustainable changes that gradually become a way of life.