Combating Childhood Obesity

With February marking the anniversary of Michelle Obama’s Childhood Obesity Let’s Move campaign, now is a good time to look at the problem of childhood obesity. A child that is obese faces significant health consequences, from cardiovascular problems at a very early age, the probability of developing type II diabetes, and quite possibly substantial psychological trauma.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity for children and teens is 17%, and 34% for the adult population. Alarmingly, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the past few decades, from only 5% in the 60s to where we currently are today (CDC, 2011). The First Lady’s admirable effort to focus on childhood obesity in an attempt to impact this problem early on is something that warrants attention. Changing behaviors while an individual is still a child is a great starting point, before it becomes an even bigger issue as an adult, no pun intended.

For the adult population anyone with a BMI (body mass index) over 25 is considered overweight, and anyone over 30 is obese. In figuring a child’s BMI additional factors are also taken into consideration, such as gender and age. For children, percentiles are also used as indicators in assessing a child’s size and growth patterns. This is due to differences in body fat between boys and girls, and age appropriate differences as a child develops. These percentiles classify a child as being overweight if they fall between the 85th and 95th percentile, and obese as equal to or greater than the 95th percentile. For more information the CDC does have a child and teen BMI percentile calculator. After assessing where your child is at, knowing what to look for can be a good first step in helping your child maintain a healthy weight.

Identifying Childhood Obesity Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for childhood obesity. Although there are also racial differences to that effect prevalence, the following are some indicators to watch for:

Family history Coming from a family where others are overweight or obese can be a factor for your child. Often times a child learns unhealthy eating habits from the home environment. High fat or high caloric foods, junk, or convenience foods, or excess portion sizes can all contribute to a child gaining weight.

Socioeconomic factors

Lower income families may tend to purchase foods that are cheaper, rather than more expensive healthier alternatives. They may also frequent fast food establishments more so when eating out rather than dining in a restaurant.

Diet

Sugary sodas, unhealthy vending machine snacks, yummy desserts, and going to fast food places can really make the calories add up, and result in packing on the pounds.

Lack of Physical Activity Today’s age of video games, TV, and time spent surfing the Net lends itself to your child being inactive, and can be a significant factor in your child not burning enough calories.

Tips for Parents

The following are some pointers for parents who wish to help their child to make healthy lifestyle choices:

Talk to your doctor

Your pediatrician may have plenty of exposure to overweight children and can offer suggestions for what you can do to help. Before embarking on any diet or exercise program a physician should be consulted so that it may be done safely.

Diet improvements

Go through your refrigerator and cabinets and remove all of the junk food and any temptations that distract you from maintaining a good diet. Have fruits and vegetables handy for snacks. Care should also be taken in your food preparation. For example, bake rather than deep-frying food. Preparing meals in excess that you can freeze, such as hearty soups or stews, can replace convenience foods when you’re in a hurry. Splurge once in awhile, perhaps on a low calorie dessert, so that your family doesn’t feel deprived and more apt to abandon healthy eating.

Encourage exercise

Find a physical activity that your child enjoys and encourage him or her to stick with it. Maybe that’s skate boarding, joining a sports team, dancing, or water sports – all may be good options. Make it a family event, such as taking a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. Lead by example by also doing something physical and incorporating it into your daily life. Something as little as climbing a couple of flights of stairs rather than taking an elevator all add up to burning calories.

Having a strong support system Continue to support your child and guide them in opportunities that can lead to a healthy lifestyle. Celebrate any milestones, and avoid any negative feedback. Encourage other family members to do the same. Peers may also be a good source of support for your child, such as church groups, school clubs, or even their friends. Your child will notice and be positively impacted by feedback they receive toward their progress in achieving their goals.

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