Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in our society, seriously affecting the health of children and teens.
Overweight children are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea, which once were considered to be “adult” diseases. Obese children often suffer from low self-esteem and depression. These emotional factors can lead to an even greater tendency to overeat, creating a habit that continues into adulthood. Obese adults may experience many health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis. The longer obesity continues, the harder it is to reverse.
What has brought about this trend toward childhood obesity? Several factors are involved:
• The availability of fast foods, sugary drinks and other foods with little nutritional value and plenty of calories.
• Parents expecting their children to eat adult-sized portions of food.
• Lack of exercise because of busier school days and increased access to video games, computers and other electronic entertainment.
• Parents and other family members and friends who set a poor example.
Prevention and solutions
A parent’s job is to offer healthy food in a structured environment. Most parents know their child should eat nutritious food, but they often do not know how much food is appropriate. For instance, children up to 6 years of age should have two daily servings of lean meat, chicken or fish, and each portion should measure only 1 to 3 tablespoons. You can find out more about children’s nutritional needs and portion sizes at the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Visit www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Parents also need to encourage their child to be physically active, and they need to set a good example. The whole family can take a walk together or play sports or games. Invent creative ways to make activity an adventure. There are many ways to keep your children active. The important thing is to keep moving. Find a good source of information about activities for younger children at the Head Start Body Start website, http://bit.ly/n4DMMD.
Many parents do not recognize when a child is overweight. Children should have annual physical check-ups, just like adults, and the child’s height and weight should be measured. Ask your child’s physician where your child falls in the “growth curve” and what his/her body mass index (BMI) percentile is.
If your child’s weight is appropriate, keep up the good work. If not, some changes can make a difference. The beautiful thing about children is that they are still growing. At our obesity clinic, we don’t put kids on diets or try to get them to lose weight as our primary goal. Instead, we help them grow into their weight and develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. This means providing appropriate portions of healthy foods and keeping the child active.
We also work with the entire family to change lifestyle habits. The results can be healthier moms and dads, as well as children.