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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Childhood obesity: Here's what you can do to change it

Today's topic has been on my mind for quite some time. With the idea rolling around in my head, I saw a photo of a friend's young relative and again the topic of childhood obesity plagued me. I see it's not going to leave me alone, which means I must write about it.

This seems like an uncomfortable topic for a lot of us - especially some parents, but if we don't keep having the conversation we will never arrive at a solution that every parent can implement. The topic will not go away until all of our children are healthier.

It breaks my heart to see overweight children. It doesn't matter if it's from an unhealthy lifestyle or a medical condition; it's sad to see overweight children. The young lady on the left is about 10 or 11 years old & on the right, she's about 8 years old. 

According to, the percentage of overweight children in the U.S. is rapidly growing, 1 out of 3 kids is now considered overweight or obese. I believe that we - the adults - are responsible for putting healthy food choices in front of our children as well as ensuring they get regular, physical activity and/or exercise. That's the beginning of assisting them with developing good habits.

When I was a youngster, during the summer months we left the house as soon as we could in the morning or early afternoon and rarely returned home before the streetlights came on. We didn't have the opportunity to sit in front of the television all day - it just wasn't allowed. And regardless if you had an Atari or Commodore 64 you still had to get your booty out of the house. Nowadays it's a requirement that a lot of families are not enforcing.

I have a friend with two children who are on their devices from sun up to sun down and complain about not wanting to be outside for whatever reason. It's difficult to get my friend to understand this as they spend about 80 percent of their day staring at a screen, playing a game. As those children, who are thankfully not overweight, enter into their tween years these things could develop into very bad habits resulting in unnecessary weight gain.
"Today’s teens spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, according to a 2010 study of 8- to 18-year-olds conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation." ~ 
We must adapt the way our families eat and exercise by leading by example. Even though a lot of us are so busy that we have little time to prepare home-cooked meals; we should still avoid the fast food line and electronic overload.

The same study also discovered a rise in the time that's spent on mobile devices. There has been an "overall increase of about an hour and 20 minutes since 1999. Today, teens are known as the Facebook Generation or "digital natives" and they're the first U.S. generation to be closely identified with technology.

"The big increase in screen time is on their cell phones. More than three-quarters of all teens own cell phones, according to a 2011 study conducted by Power Internet and American Life Project. This is an increase from the 45 percent of teens who owned cell phones in 2004." ~
One of the first things you should do if you're worrked about whether your child or teen is overweight is make an appointment with the pediatrician. They will be able to make suggestions for positive change based on eating habits and activity level. The doctor should also be able to screen for some medical conditions that can be associated with obesity. You also may be able to get a referral to a registered dietician.

How obesity affects children

  • Increases the risk for serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Makes children prone to low self-esteem because of teasing, bullying and/or rejection by peers.
  • May develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and bulimia).
  • More prone to depression and substance abuse.
  • May cause insulin resistance and abnormal blood lipid levels as well as the chances of developing asthma.
  • Shortness of breath making physical activity difficult.
  • Disordered sleep patterns.
  • Early maturity; both sexually and physically.
  • Higher risk of liver and gall bladder disease.

What you can do to encourage healthy habits

  1. Limit screen time to one to two hours of quality programming.
  2. Visit the childcare center to see if they're serving healthy foods and drinks; and if they are limiting video and TV time.
  3. Work with your child's school to limit sugary foods and drinks as well as those high in salt and fat content especially those sold outside of the school lunch.
  4. Make fruits and vegetables readily available by preparing them ahead of time or making them convenient to grab.
  5. Limit foods that are high in sugars and fat.
  6. Prepare healthier family meals. 
  7. Serve water with meals instead of drinks with sugar. Add fruits and ice to water to make a tasty refreshing and healthy drink.
  8. Ensure you and your child(ren) get physical activity each day. I wrote about Flip2BFit, a fitness board game for the entire family. We enjoyed it - you should give it a try, as well.
Is this a conversation you're interested in having? What steps are you taking to maintain your and your family's health?
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