The Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Pediatric obesity, commonly known as childhood obesity, is rising across the nation. According to the American Heart Association, one in three American minors are considered overweight. The responsibility of maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t fall solely on the child, parents are an influential factor for developing children’s healthy eating and activity habits. Since September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we’re looking into what defines this disease and how parents can play an important role in combating the issue.
Defining Childhood Obesity
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines childhood obesity by measuring a child’s body mass index (BMI). This BMI number (calculated through an individual’s height and weight) presents a relevant measurement of body composition. For children and teens, BMI is age and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. Therefore, the childhood obesity category is defined as a child whose BMI is higher than 95% of other children their age and gender.
Childhood obesity can have many short and long-term effects on a child’s health. Some health concerns may appear immediately (lethargy, difficulty breathing or doing physical activities) while others may arise later in life (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular problems). Obesity can also impair a child’s glucose response which can lead to type 2 diabetes, cause joint and muscular discomfort, fatty liver disease, and gallstones. But the physical effects aren’t the only thing an obese child can suffer from. It can often affect the mental well-being of a child, causing issues such as depression or guilt.
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle
It can be easy to misperceive where a child falls in their weight category. However, annual physicals with a primary care or family physician are a beneficial way to keep track of weight and overall growth. Depending on a child’s age, they may not fully understand the concept of weight and nutrition, making it crucial for parents to simply promote a healthy lifestyle. The information below provides nutritional and physical activity tips that parents can use to combat the development of childhood obesity.
The Power of Nutrition
- Identify a time and location for meals.
- Routine meals play an important role in healthy digestion. Eating at the same time and in the same location minimizes excessive snacking and encourages appropriate portion size. Try to gather the family for meals at the dining room or kitchen table away from the TV or computer.
- Quantify sugary drinks.
- Be aware of sugar consumption, especially in the form of drinks like sodas, juices, and even chocolate milk. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sugary beverages contribute to weight gain more so than solid foods since the body does not feel full through sugary drinks and therefore does not reduce calorie intake from other foods.
- Promote fruits and vegetables.
- Children often find one or two fruits or vegetables that they enjoy. By consistently rotating their favorite vegetables and trying new ones, a child will gain an appreciation for healthy snacks and, quite possibly, a higher happiness level.
- Incorporate complex carbs.
- By incorporating complex carbs into your child’s diet, you will be able to help avoid blood sugar swings caused by simple carbs. Simple carbs that are often found in processed or refined items and can leave a child feeling hungry or unfulfilled. Instead, incorporate more complex carbs that are found in whole wheat products.
- Provide a lean menu.
- There are many options for meat and poultry that considered lean meats (lower in fat). To keep a healthy and balanced diet, grill and bake these lean meats versus indulging in too many fatty or fried foods. As you know, fatty foods can have a huge impact on a child’s future cholesterol levels and cardiovascular function.
The Power of Physical Activity
- Increase physical activity.
- Incorporate opportunities for physical activity and fitness into your child’s daily schedule. Walking or biking to school, walking the family dog, or even enrolling the child in organized sports can increase activity levels and even brain stimulation.
- Reduce sedentary activity.
- Limiting a child’s screen time is crucial in preventing a sedentary lifestyle. As difficult as it may be in this digital world, two hours a day is the recommended limit on TVs and computers.
- Meet the recommended amount of physical activity.
- The daily recommended minimal amount of physical activity is one hour. Suggest activities that involve the family or your child’s friends. The physical activity doesn’t have to be met all at once, but this daily goal can be highly beneficial on a child’s health in the long run.
Childhood obesity may be rising in America, but your child isn’t alone in this fight. Being mindful, incorporating beneficial activities, and informing them on how to live a healthy lifestyle can drastically make a difference. Share these steps with your family today and you can maintain your child’s healthy weight and combat childhood obesity together.