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Childhood Obesity – Steps For an Active and Healthy Lifestyle
The prevalence of overweight children tripled between 1985 and 2000 and reached epidemic proportions, with approximately 16% of children currently classified as obese. A child is considered overweight if they have a body mass index (BMI; [wt (kg)/ ht (m)2]) is between the 85th and 95th percentiles for his/her gender and age. A child would be considered obese if his or her BMI for age was > 95th percentile.
About 50% of overweight children become obese adults. Children are unaware of the long-term health risks associated with being overweight. For example, in parallel with the increase in the number of children classified as obese, there has been a drastic increase in childhood type II diabetes. In addition, a variety of other physical complications (eg, orthopedic concerns, high blood pressure, sleep apnea) and psychological problems (eg, depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem) are often associated with being overweight.
There are several reasons for the dramatic increase in the prevalence of overweight children. First, the environment played a big role. Children are exposed to a variety of readily available and affordable fast food options in the community, vending machines stocked with sugar-sweetened beverages at school, and high-calorie snacks at home. Clearly, changes need to be made to all of these settings.
Second, advertising also played a big role. dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating Disorders and Weight, noted that the US government’s nutrition education program (“5 a Day”) is given $3 million to promote it, while the fast food industry spends 1,000 times that on advertising. towards children. Consequently, Brownell stated that Ronald McDonald is the second most recognized figure in the world, right after Santa Claus!
Third, the portion sizes have been significantly increased. For example, soda used to be sold in 6 oz. containers. The standard size is now 20 oz! Every day, children get 11% of their calories from soft drinks, which is about 15 teaspoons of sugar a day! Our society is full of buffets, big gulps and super large portions.
Fourth, dietary patterns have changed. People are now eating more meals out, eating fewer fruits and vegetables and choosing more fats.
Fifth, activity levels are reduced. Twenty years ago, children engaged in several bouts of physical activity a day. Now, many schools have removed physical education from the curriculum, and children are replacing extracurricular physical activity with television, computers, and video games.
Prevention and treatment of overweight in childhood. Behavior modification programs are effective in addressing a variety of problem behaviors, but they are still challenging. Fortunately, it is easier to change a child’s behavior than an adult’s. Family interventions aimed at targeting specific behaviors (eg, television viewing, physical activity, diet, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages) show the most promise. Below are some ways you can help your family increase their healthy behaviors:
o Keep family time active. Summer is coming – walk, bike, swim. Cut back on TV and video game time. Instead of sitting on the couch, try walking around a museum, garden, or mall.
o Use physical activity as a reward for good behavior. But don’t take it away as a means of punishment (eg “no outside play today”). The end result would be a more sedentary behavior for your child.
o Plan and prepare healthy meals together as a family. Start eating breakfast to provide the fuel you need for the day. Research shows that children who eat breakfast miss fewer days of school, are less likely to be late, do better in school and are more alert.
o Make healthier choices. Choose whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, skim or 1% milk, lean meats, and choose healthier cooking options (eg baking, roasting). Snacks are important for a healthy diet. Try to choose snacks with low fat content, reduced sugar and salt intake.
o Drink more water. Try adding different fruits to your water to give it a fruity, summer flavor. Be careful with juices; many have no real fruit juice and are actually high in sugar. Choose the one that says “100% juice.”
o Be a role model and practice what you preach. Make sure that your portions are not “super-sized”, that you choose water and healthy foods and that you do not choose a sedentary lifestyle.
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