Childhood obesity rates are growing at a terrifying rate, with one out of every three kids in America considered overweight. This is not just in the United States, this epidemic is in Canada, Australia, the U.K., and many other countries around the world, and this large scale problem is happening in the face of abundant nutrition information, organized sports, health materials and products and vocal medical communities. With all of these advantages and resources, 1/3 of the general population of adolescents are still overweight.
Now apply this to the autistic community. We know that there's less research and nutrition information, it's much harder to get involved in group sports due to social inhibitions, less health materials available, and a much smaller group of concerned medical professionals for developmental disorders. With all of these added challenges, how can we not be concerned about the childhood obesity epidemic being even more drastic in the autistic community?
Where to start? Here a few tips to get started with helping kids with autism get healthier. Again, I am not a medical professional, but I am a professional youth athletic coach with lots of experience in helping kids overcome adversity through exercise.
Get active and play! The best treatment for overweight children, all children, is to get off the couch and play. This is more of a challenge for many autistic kids because socializing with other kids and being out of the house on their own may be more difficult or dangerous. However, getting out in the back yard, walking around the park with a parent, dancing in the living room - Get creative. There are plenty of ways for physical play in small, safe settings as long as the goal is increased activity.
Understand dietary needs. Many of those in the autistic community also suffer from gluten and casein intolerance. Not adhering to a special diet can lead to health problems such as intestinal leakage, decreased bowel functioning, and stomach irritability. These complications will not lead to a comfortable active lifestyle, and will cause further challenges in associating exercise with enjoyment.
Get help with the right products. There are a few key resources that can really help educate and help parents with autistic children understand health needs and provide ideas for overcoming health issues in their autistic children. The products on this site are just a few examples of products that I've found and spoken with the creators to assure their quality and effectiveness.
In the end, the only way to really fight this epidemic is to spread the word and educate your network of support and other parents in the autistic community to get serious about this problem and to get active about reversing the trend of obesity in autistic children.