Did you know that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month?
Childhood obesity is a public health problem that has slowly gained attention over recent years, and rightfully so. Over the past three decades, the prevalence of obesity here in the United States has tripled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than 30 percent of adults and 17 percent (or 12.7 million) children and adolescents are obese. However, obesity in children is defined slightly different from obesity in adults. While adults are diagnosed using predetermined body mass index (BMI) charts, experts take into account the varying growth rates of children and therefore use age- and sex-specific charts. Children classified as overweight are in the 85 to 95 percentile of the weight portion of clinical growth charts, while children who fall above 95 percent are classified as obese.
Several complications can occur as a result of obesity in children and adults, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, insulin sensitivity, and sleep apnea. Issues that may arise in children specifically include asthma, behavior and learning problems, delays in cognitive development and motor skill performance (walking and running), low self-esteem and bullying. Not to mention, obese children usually become obese adults.
There are also various risk factors that can be attributed to obesity in children. Behavioral and lifestyle factors such as inactivity/too little activity, nutrition, and sleep patterns can influence whether or not a child experiences excessive weight gain.
But the good news is that many of the factors contributing to childhood obesity are preventable.
The truth is, children aren’t thinking about what they eat, how much they sleep they get and how active they are on a daily basis. Aside from biological, social and environmental factors that are beyond your control, parents can intervene on their child’s behalf and assist in making healthier choices. However, as parents you can make healthy food choices, set up a nightly routine to ensure adequate sleep and incorporate physical activity in your child’s daily regimen.
As parents, you can make healthy food choices and add physical activity to your child’s daily regimen.
For example, in the United States, only 21.6 percent of 6 to 19-year-olds achieve physical activity (PA) recommendations set by CDC. Many children do obtain some physical activity during school through physical education classes and recess, but when parents incorporate more activity outside of school, children benefit even more. Parents should try limiting sedentary activities such as screen time with TVs, computers, video games, phones, etc., and incorporate physical activities in place of the spare time gained from limiting sedentary activities such as a walk to the park or cycling. The CDC recommends a combination of at least 60 minutes of moderate- AND vigorous-intensity PA daily. These activities MUST include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone-strengthening activities, such as bicycling, jump rope and organized sports.
Children are often fed sugar-laden snacks and hefty portions, which contributes to excess weight gain. More importantly, parents model dietary patterns and therefore influence their child’s nutrition behavior. Increased screen time not only encourages sedentary activity (as stated above), but also increases the exposure of unhealthy food items specifically targeted to children such as sugary cereals, snacks, drinks and fast food meals. Not to mention, these very fast food meals and cereals incorporate prizes for kids, which entice children to choose the unhealthy options. Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables, proteins, dairy, whole grains, and good fats, while reducing excess added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats can help ensure your child eats a well-balanced diet to obtain the nutrients they need for proper growth and development, while maintaining a healthy energy balance.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have established Dietary Guidelines by age groups as a guide to assist parents in making healthier choices and to ensure children are receiving the necessary nutrients needed for growth and development.
For more information on how to incorporate a healthy and balanced diet for the entire family, please visit: health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.