Childhood obesity is a global epidemic, according to Kathleen K. Barnhouse, M.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Journal of Family Practice.
In the United States, 19.8% of the children ages 6 through 11 and 18.1% of 12- to 19-year-olds are obese, which is a 3-fold increase in the last 30 years.
Without intervention most obese adolescents will become obese adults, threatening to reverse the progress in slowing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality that has occurred in recent decades.
She added that obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, arthritis, and so-called adult diseases like obstructive sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, etc., which are increasingly seen in children and adolescents.
“Nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin D and iron-deficiency are often seen in obese children,” she continued. “There are also psychological ramifications of childhood obesity, including social isolation and depression.”
A systematic review of children 4 to 18 were termed overweight with a body mass index (BMI) in the 85th to 94th percentile for age and sex.
Parents unknowingly contribute to the problem by sending their children to school with a lackluster breakfast containing sugarcoated cereals, pancakes and syrup, French toast, and other nutrient-deficient fare.
By mid-morning, many of these children are indolent, hyper, and unable to concentrate on their schoolwork. If their lunch is also deficient in bodybuilding nutrients and they are given more sugar, with little chance to exercise, they will definitely gain weight.
Parents should be pro-active in seeing that school lunches are nutritious and well balanced. If the vending machines in the school are packed with junk foods, these products should be replaced with nutritious alternatives or the machines should be removed from the school. Parents should also insist that the school provide a suitable physical education (PE) program for all students.
The first step in helping a child lose weight is to get them feeling better about themselves, according to Ellen Rome, M.D., head of the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Hurling insults about a child’s weight can backfire because it chips away at their self-esteem.
“It is important for parents to find ways to highlight good behavior or accomplishments,” Rome continued. “The first time they choose an apple over a doughnut, give them credit for a healthy choice. However, avoid exaggerated praise because kids can sniff out this ruse.”
The next step, she said, is to focus on lifestyle changes the whole family can adopt. Here are other important rules:
- Parents should cut out the diet talk about their own diet.
- Enjoy more family activities, such as going for a family bike ride or walk, tossing a frisbee, etc.
- Limit screen time and get the TV out of the bedroom.
- Cook more family dinners. Unlike restaurants, you can control the portions and how the food is prepared. Get in the habit of filling half the plate with veggies, reserving a quarter for protein (chicken, fish, tofu, etc.), and saving the last quarter for starch (whole-grain bread or pasta, brown rice). If the child asks for seconds, ask them to wait 15 minutes to see if they are still hungry.
- Eat dinner together. Family meals provide a perfect opportunity to focus on positive conversation, which is an excellent way to build a child’s self-esteem.
- Serve healthful drinks, such as beverages with no calories (water) or low-fat milk.
- Junk the junk food by replacing it with tasty, healthy options, such as air-popped popcorn with a sprinkle of garlic powder, apple slices with a teaspoon of trans-fat, sugar-free peanut butter, or low-fat vanilla yogurt with fresh blueberries.
- Create healthy house rules, such as no food in front of the TV, since we tend to eat more while watching, and fast food only once a week.
- Recruit relatives and the babysitter to get on board by encouraging them to adopt healthy habits.
Writing in HeathDay, Chris Woolson, M.S., said that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, children need to exercise at least an hour a day. This means moderately intense activities such as walking, swimming, and bicycling.
Former U. S. Surgeon General David Satcher added, “This is probably the most sedentary generation in the history of the world.” He blamed childhood obesity on lack of exercise and an unbalanced diet.
“Happy Meals and Cocoa Crisps have played a large role in the wake of childhood obesity, but the real culprit seems to be a cultural shift that encourages kids to remain as still as possible,” Satcher said.
Melinda S. Southern, Ph.D., of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, quoted a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation in California, as saying that the average American child spends more than 5 hours a day—almost 40% of their waking hours—watching TV, playing video games, and sitting in front of a computer.
She added that school districts across the country are cutting education programs and that the number of high school students taking daily PE classes declined 12% between 1991 and 2007. Only Illinois and Massachusetts require daily PE classes for kids in kindergarten through the 12th grade but even they allow exemptions.
Cutbacks in PE and recess may be fueling behavior problems in class, added Judy Young, Ph.D., National Association for Sports and Physical Education, Reston, Virginia. Many kids would be more attentive and successful in the classroom if they could let off steam in the playground, she said.
Approximately 11% of the calories that children consume each day come from sugar-sweetened beverages, reported the Rhode Island Department of Health in Providence. Each 12-oz. soft drink per day increases a child’s odds of becoming obese by 60%.
To burn off the calories from a 12-oz can of soda a 15-year-old needs to bicycle vigorously for 30 minutes, the Agency said.
While childhood obesity continues to become an increasing issue, it is important to improve your child’s diet and to encourage more physical activity. With risk factors ranging from cardiovascular disease to Type 2 diabetes, small life changes such as nutritional snacks and a bicycle ride are more than necessary for your child’s health. Eating well-balanced meals and exercising are vital for children, especially in this age of rising technology. Leaning children off of sugar and television and onto fruit and physical activity can be a fun task and enjoyable for everyone involved.