Childhood in America is not what it once was. The days of long periods of play outdoors are almost gone. Video games are in, kickball is out. Balanced, home-cooked meals are often replaced with faster, less healthy options. In my opinion, the U.S. has changed over the years. There are more dual working families and single parents juggling jobs and children. There is less time for smart meal choices and physical activity.
More than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. Obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years. Obesity can be viewed as a top public health threat due to its associated morbidity and mortality.
Obesity occurs when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. BMI (body mass index) is defined as a ratio between weight and height and is plotted against age and sex specific percentiles for children and adolescents. Obesity is diagnosed when BMI is at 95 percentile or higher for age.
Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, coronary artery disease, fatty liver disease, joint and bone problems and sleep apnea. They are also at more risk of social and psychological problems due to depression, low self-esteem, stigmatization and bullying. These problems can affect their performance in school and social settings.
Some metabolic or hormonal imbalances are often blamed for weight problem. However, they are responsible for less than 1 percent of the cases of childhood obesity.
Parents should rely on the growth charts and their pediatrician’s advice and make sure that their child is consuming portion sizes that allow him/her to maintain an average weight.
Families often feel overwhelmed by a child’s or teen’s weight problems. Small changes can make a real difference. An early start is important, but it is never too late to help a child achieve a healthy weight. To prevent long-term medical problems, it is best to start when the child is young. The body continues to make fat cells until early adolescence.
An annual medical checkup is very important. If your doctor does not bring up your child’s weight and height at the next checkup, ask whether they are on track.
Signs that a child is having weight problems include difficulty keeping up with other kids while playing, snoring at night, aches and pains when moving, depression or anxiety (acting nervous, sad or moody), and darkening of skin around the neck (acanthosis nigricans).
When shopping for food, take an honest look at what’s being put in the grocery cart. Once parents start modeling healthy choices, it will be easier to involve other family members. Start by talking with your children about food and healthy eating. Try not to label foods as “good” or “bad,” as this can create disordered perceptions of food. Once there’s an open conversation, begin talking about small, realistic lifestyle changes the family can make together – never single out an obese child to make changes on his or her own. Be patient and persistent.
Here are some Healthy Lifestyle Tips:
- Eat breakfast every day.
- Encourage whole grains such as brown rice, wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cereals.
- Provide five fruits and vegetables every day.
- Practice portion control.
- Do not use food as a reward.
- Drink water instead of juice or soda.
- Limit screen time (computer, video games, and TV) to two hours per day or less and keep TVs out of the bedroom.
- Encourage physical activity for at least an hour a day.
- Become an active family; go play together.
- Eat together as a family.
- Most important- HAVE FUN!
Some helpful websites:
Lamiaa Ali, M.D., ABOM, assistant professor in pediatrics, recently received certification as a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Dr. Ali is one of only 14 physicians in Oklahoma and one of only two in Northeastern Oklahoma with this distinction. Obesity has been officially labeled as a disease. Physicians receiving his certification require a competency in and thorough understanding of the treatment of obesity and genetic, biologic, environmental, social and behavioral factors that contribute to obesity. (See: http://abom.org/content/