Monday, April 2, 2012

Childhood Obesity: A Call to Action

Show your children the value of eating healthy foods 

Our children are at risk. Most parents identify drugs, alcohol, sex and violence as threats to the well-being of their children. In truth, childhood obesity will have a greater negative impact on more children than any of the concerns listed above. The most recent data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) collected in 2007-2008 shows a marked increase in the prevalence of obesity from 1976-1980 in all age groups.

Prevalence of Obesity in US Children and Adolescents
   Age                    1976-1980                  2007-2008
2-5 years               5.0%                            10.4%
6-11 years             6.5%                            19.6%
12-19 years           5.0%                            18.1%

Nearly one third of children in the US are either overweight or obese and they are at risk for future health problems.

Overweight and obese children are the targets of many health and social problems. They are often exposed to early social discrimination, which can lead to low self-esteem. This in turn can hamper their academic and social functioning into adulthood. They are also at increased risk for cardiovascular disease due to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and abnormal blood sugar levels. Additional health risks include asthma, fatty degeneration of the liver caused by a high concentration of liver enzymes, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes.

The causes of childhood overweight and obesity are many. Childhood obesity was aptly described by Dr. Hilde Bruch, a pioneer in the field over seventy years ago. She said, "To understand the obese child, one needs to remember that he (she) accumulated his (her) extra weight while living in a family that, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraged overeating and inactivity." The current culture of America encourages overeating and inactivity, and one must swim against the current to avoid these habits.

The solution is straightforward, but difficult to adopt for many families who are stressed for time. Calories must be balanced with eating healthy foods and engaging in daily activities. When looking for solutions to keep your kids healthy, look not further than your pantry and your own backyard.

Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods.
  • Offer protein from beans, lentils, nuts, fish, poultry and lean meats.
  • Include some low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
  • Offer smaller portion sizes.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. One 12 ounce can of soda contains ten teaspoons of sugar.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.
  • Cook healthier meals at home and eat out less.
  • Avoid calorie-rich temptations. An occasional treat is acceptable, but it should not be a daily occurrence.

Help Kids Stay Active
  • Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day. Examples are taking a brisk walk, playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming and dancing.
  • Have children join you in your physical activity routine.
  • Limit television, video games, and surfing on the web to no more than two hours a day. Children younger than 2 years should not view television at all.
  • Do not allow your child to have a television or computer in their bedroom.

With attention, support, and hard work, our children can lose and maintain healthier weights.

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