When you're overweight as a child: Scary facts – and some suggestions
Is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care / GI Care for Kids, whose books on nutrition for parents led him to start Nutrition4Kids with his co-founders.
The facts about overweight children are not new, but they are frightening. Over the past 20 years, obesity has doubled for children and adolescents. Fifteen percent of children between 6 and 12 years old are overweight and 17% of adolescents are obese. (The difference: children who weigh more, or have a BMI greater, than 85% of others their age are considered overweight–and over 97% are obese). This percentage increases among some minority and economically disadvantaged groups. More than a third of African-American girls are obese by nineteen years of age. The statistics are worse in Georgia, where 9.4% of children 2 to 5 years of age are already overweight. The number of hospitalizations related to obesity for children 6 to 17 years of age increased 65 % over the past two decades.
The first consequence these children often face is a crushing blow to their self-esteem and peer relationships. But they are also at risk for the medical side effects of obesity that occur later in adulthood, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and lipid levels leading the list. Even further, Type 2 Diabetes, which was previously seen in only middle aged adults, is now being diagnosed decades earlier. And that's not all. Obesity is known to cause or worsen heart disease, lung disorders, gout, and arthritis.
Sadly, once obesity is present, losing the weight is difficult. But's important–and even more important to do what we can to prevent children from becoming overweight in the first place. With almost 1/3 of all Americans struggling with this problem, no wonder obesity ranks second to smoking as a preventable cause of death.
Preventable–that's the key word
There's a lot you can do. Focus on what I call Healthy Lifestyles for a Lifetime. Some of the basics are laid out here along with suggestions you can promote in your community (that's so worthwhile too, because it will help your children and their friends reinforce each other with their healthy activities and eating).
- Understand your responsibilities and importance as a role model in your own eating habits. Your children aren't the ones selecting what they eat at home; they often follow your example, good or bad. They're not the ones choosing the restaurants they go to; yet the increased fat, calories and salt they eat there are determined by those choices and the foods they order there.
- Control the portion sizes you're serving, and how your family eats.
- Become more active. Again you are a role model. Increased television and screen time (computers and video games) is associated with increased risk of being overweight.
- Work with your children's school to 1) promote healthy meals in their lunch rooms and breakfast plans; 2) limit vending machine access during school hours; 3) encourage better nutritional choices in those machines; and 4) incorporate physical activities into their curricula and after-school programming.
- If you can, speak to community organizations and the schools to develop and promote active recreational programs that will appeal to your children and that are accessible to your family for after school, weekend and summer involvement.
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