For many, the adolescent years are remembered as a time of joy – no responsibilities, running around in circles until night fall, riding bikes with the neighborhood kids; a time period where having fun is all that matters.

However in this day and age, the definition of “fun” has dramatically changed. Children no longer have to leave their bedroom for a good time and are spending the years when physical activity is crucial on technological forms of entertainment.

Combine that with an extensive amount of available junk food and you end up with a country where childhood obesity is a norm; a country like America.

The Facts

According to Action for Healthy Kids, only 2% of school-age children eat consistently well, resulting in a tripled obesity rate from 1980. This substantial amount is not only shortening our children’s lives, it’s leading many experts to believe that for the first time in U.S history, the current generation of children will live shorter lives than their parents. So what’s to blame for this growing epidemic? Today’s fast-paced yet sedentary lifestyle and a lack of routine physical activity offered for children. The fundamentals of life are learned within the education system yet only 8% of elementary school students have a daily PE program. We’re also seeing less of a parental influence in the home due to a suffering economy forcing many to work long hours. Among these are a few other contributing factors:

Nutrition and eating habits: An analysis conducted by the Bogalusa Heart Study discovered contributing changes in children’s eating habits over the last 20 years such as increased incidences of missed breakfast’s, more children eating dinner outside the home, and more snacking.

Physical environment: Urban and suburban areas are shown to have less available outdoor space for recreational activities. Neighborhood crime and a lack of street lighting may also inhibit a child’s ability to get physical activity.

Genetics: Studies indicate that 50-70% of a child’s over-average body mass index is determined by genetic influences and there is a 75% chance that a child will be overweight if both parents are overweight.

Advertising and Marketing: It has been estimated that the average child currently views more than 40,000 commercials each year, and more than 50% of advertisements that are specifically directed at children promote unhealthy foods and high sugar beverages.

The Risks

Children who are overweight miss four times as many school days as a child who is an average size. Much like with adults, a child suffering from obesity is at risk for many dangerous and potentially life threatening health conditions:

  • Bone and joint problems
  • Liver and gal bladder disease
  • Emotional problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • High blood pressure

Is My Child Obese?

Carrying a few extra pounds is not considered to be obesity. Growth patterns are different in every child and it’s not uncommon for weight distribution to occur at a slow pace. A good way to determine if your child is at risk is by using a  Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator. Although a BMI calculator can be misleading in some situations, it will provide you with a rough estimate of where your child’s weight is in comparison to the average weight of his or her age group.

Underweight: BMI below the 5th percentile

Normal weight: BMI at the 5th and less than the 85th percentile

Overweight: BMI at the 85th and below the 95th percentiles

Obese: BMI at or above the 95th percentile

The most accurate way to determine your child’s risk factor is to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician who can properly asses eating and activity habits and screen for any contributing medical conditions. After finding the source, you can then begin the process of helping your child live a long healthy life.

What Can I Do?

Leading by example is one of the best forms of preventing childhood obesity. A parents influence plays a huge role in the developed eating habits of a child, and proper nutritional education may greatly improve your families quality of life. Here are some other helpful tips:

  • Avoid rewarding kids for good behavior or trying to stop bad behavior with sugary snacks.
  • Get rid of the “clean plate” policy and be aware of your child’s hunger cues. If they appear to be satisfied, don’t force them to finish every last bite. This will reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they’re hungry.
  • Don’t completely eliminate all of your child’s favorite snacks. This may lead to rebellion and increases the risk of overeating these types of food outside the home.
  • Change your own eating habits and invest the time to make healthy meals with natural ingredients rather than quick meals filled with processed foods.
  • Stress the importance of drinking lots of water to your entire family. Water is shown to help prevent weight gain and keeps the body running properly.
  • Help your child stay active and limit the amount of sedentary time. Come up with fun outdoor activities that you and your child can do together, or even activities that your child can do on their own.

Remember, the behavior of parents reflect that of their child’s. Making these simple changes will not only improve your child’s life, it’ll improve your life too.

 

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.