Children's Health

Taking Steps to Address Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five kids ages 18 or younger is obese. Furthermore, the number of kids affected by obesity has tripled since the 1970s.

Many factors contribute to childhood obesity:

  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diets high in processed foods
  • Genetics
  • Social environment

It’s often a combination of these factors that lead to excessive weight gain. However, the biggest culprits seem to be sedentary lifestyles and poor diets.

The advancement of technology has been incredible in the last 20 years. However, it seems to be coming at the price of far less physical activity. Smartphones, tablets, streaming services, and video games pose the largest risk with urging children to sit for hours at a time, instead of being outdoors and being active.

The second biggest culprit is a diet that is high in calories and low in nutrients. Children are eating too many processed foods loaded with added sugars, including juices, sodas, energy drinks, and fast foods. Children who eat fast food consume on average 150 more calories per day than children that do not eat it.

When children are obese, they have an 80 percent chance of staying obese their entire lives. Over time this can lead to health conditions including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease

However, there are more immediate consequences of obesity, not just long term issues. These include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bullying
  • Poor self-esteem

This can be especially difficult for teens as they are at high risk for these issues already, even when they are completely healthy, thus making a focus on overall health that much more important.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your child achieve a healthy weight:

  • Set realistic goals – Instead of honing in on a specific weight target, focus on building a healthier lifestyle. It’s also smart to set smaller, short term goals. For example, eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal, or take a 30-minute walk daily.
  • Improve eating habits – Have the entire family commit to eating a diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid keeping processed foods and junk foods in the home to have less temptation around. Also, do not use food or beverages as a reward or a form of discipline for academic performance or behavior.
  • Make kids part of the process – Allow your kids to pick vegetables and fruits at the grocery store. A fun activity might include looking up a healthy recipe and cooking it together.
  • Encourage physical activity – Trying to limit screen time to one hour per day is a great start. Children 6 years old and older should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day like walking, running, biking, or playing sports. An easy way to incorporate more physical activity into the day is by making it social. Taking a walk as a family after dinner, going for a bike ride together on the weekends, or getting kids involved in local park district sports/activities can be very beneficial.
  • Lead by example – Kids look up to their parents, so make sure you’re setting a good example. Try to eat meals as a family whenever possible. Turn off the TV and don’t allow cell phones during mealtime, and use it as an opportunity to talk to and connect with your children. Try to be supportive and listen to your children.
  • Drink enough water – A good rule of thumb for the amount kids should drink per day is their age in years up to age eight. For example, if your child is six years old, he or she should aim for about 6 cups of water per day.
  • Get more sleep – Turn off all electronics at least 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Six to twelve-year-olds should be getting between 9-12 hours of sleep per night, while thirteen to eighteen-year-olds should be getting between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. This not only improves academic performance, allowing for better concentration and focus, but it also lessens the risk of obesity.

Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s weight. I always encourage yearly physicals even if parents don’t have any specific concerns with their children. This gives me an opportunity to not only track height, weight, and blood pressure measurements, but to also monitor mental and other physical health aspects. It also allows me to be proactive with catching something like a rapid weight gain and having the ability to make positive changes in lifestyles before it turns into a more serious issue.

To find out if your child is at risk for weight-related health issues, take Edward-Elmhurst Health’s free online WeightAware assessment. To learn more about addressing childhood obesity, make an appointment online or call 630-527-6363.
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