September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Unfortunately, childhood obesity has become a major public health problem. Obese children are more likely to be obese adults, increasing their risk for diabetes and heart disease. But this trend isn’t waiting, we are diagnosing prediabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in children before the age of 18. Another negative impact of childhood obesity not often talked about, is obese children are more likely to be bullied and shamed.
We know that childhood obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise. About 1 in 5 children are obese. The prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents is higher among Hispanics, 22.4% and blacks, 20.2%. In comparison to whites, 14.1% and Asians at 8.6%. So why the disparity? Look no further than:
- Socioeconomic factors. Families of lower socioeconomic status have less resources and less access to affordable foods. Secondly, poor communities tend to be oversaturated with fast food restaurants and with grocery stores that sell unhealthy food. Lastly, in certain improvised areas children lack a safe harbor where they can feel safe to be outdoors and be physically active.
So what is pushing childhood obesity overall in our nation?
- Sugary drinks. Children and aldolescents are consuming sodas and fruit drinks loaded with sugar.
- Processed foods. Parents are living in a rat-race, so often little time is available for cooking thus children and adolescents are eating ready to eat packaged foods. Or they are eating at fast food restaurants. These foods tend to be calorie dense and pack little in the way of nutrients.
- Large portion sizes. Most meals are supper sized.
- Television and Digital media. Kids are spending less time being active and more time being digitally connected.
What you can do as a parent to promote a healthy lifestyle
- Limit or eliminate access to surgery drinks.
- Limit access to television, phones and computers. It’s recommended that children and adolescents spend less than 2 hours per day of digital connectivity.
- Start early. Promote healthy eating and an active lifestyle at an early age.
- Visit with your child’s pediatrician or family physician to have your child’s risk of obesity assessed.
- Talk to your child and educate them. Be the resource they need. If necessary seek professional nutritional counseling.
- Pre-plan meals so that you can avoid finding yourself and your child at the fast food drive-thru.
- Have your kids eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- When age appreciate encourage your child to join you in the kitchen as you prepare a healthy meal.
- Encourage exercise and exercise as a family. Talk to your child’s physician about age-approriate recommendations and activity.
- Lead by example. Kids mimic what they see, so be an example and take the ride of a healthy lifestyle with your child.
by Marjorie Binette, MD