As a parent, you can't help but be concerned about the health of your child. An increasing health concern for families today is childhood obesity. In the United States, the number of obese children has more than tripled during the last 30 years. In 2008, at least one out of three children and adolescents were considered overweight or obese.
What has caused this rise in childhood obesity? How does obesity affect a child's health and well-being, today and in the future? What is some practical advice for parents and caregivers when it comes to preventing and overcoming childhood obesity?
Children gain weight just like adults do: from a caloric imbalance. This means that too few calories are burned compared to the number of calories consumed. A lack of physical exercise combined with unhealthy eating habits is a recipe for weight gain. Obesity is also affected by environmental, behavioral, or genetic factors.
Childhood obesity affects a child's health and wellness both in the present and long term. Immediate health consequences include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both which put the child at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Youth who are obese are likely to be prediabetic, a condition that often leads to diabetes. In addition, these children are more prone to suffer from sleep apnea, asthma, bone and joint problems, poor self-esteem, and social and psychological issues.
Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to be obese as adults. Therefore, they're at risk for developing adult health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Sounds scary, doesn't it? If your child or a child you know is obese, what can you do to encourage a healthy weight? Prevention is three-fold: it requires a healthy diet, more physical activity, and less sitting around doing nothing.
The best strategy for preventing childhood obesity starts with a healthy diet. This is simple. Feed your child plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Buy only low-fat or non-fat milk. Serve lean meats, fish, beans, or poultry, and with all food and drink, go on portion patrol.
Additionally, kids should drink plenty of water instead of sugary beverages. Don't buy sugary, high-fat, processed foods. If they are in the house, the kids will eat those foods first. You should also avoid putting your kid around fast foods. These small changes to your family's diet will make a big difference. It is important to remember that many preschool-age children and toddlers grow in spurts and have their own individual body structure. Before making any restrictions to a child's diet, consult your child's doctor first.
The second part of ensuring your child maintains a healthy weight is encouraging regular physical activity. Not only is exercise fun for kids, but also it is good for their health. Children should be getting at least one hour of moderate physical activity every day. This includes activities such as walking, playing tag, soccer, basketball, jumping rope, riding a bike, dancing, or swimming.
The third ingredient is limited sedentary time. For many children, this means limited screen time. Quiet time is fine for kids reading or doing homework, but kids need limits when it comes to video games, surfing the web, or watching TV. Kids younger than 2 years shouldn't be watching television at all. Older children should be limited to one to two hours a day of screen time. By spending less time in front of a screen, kids will look for other things to do, and that often leads to physical activity.
Beware: they are watching! Kids imitate adults. Parents and caregivers should teach and model a healthy lifestyle. Keep your focus on being healthy, not on obtaining a certain weight. Remember, exercise and eating habits are started early in life. The sooner you start your efforts to prevent childhood obesity, the better.