Tag Archives: child obesity

Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years—and obesity in adolescents has quadrupled. In 1980, five percent of teenagers were obese; in 2012, it was close to 21 percent. All in all, more than one in three children under 19 were overweight or obese in 2012. The World Health Organization call this explosion of childhood overweight and obesity one of the most serious public health challenges of this century.

This is why illnesses and conditions once thought to be exclusively the province of adults have started to be seen more and more in children and teenagers. Obese children are vulnerable to serious health problems, such as prediabetic conditions and type 2 diabetes, heat disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Like their adult counterparts, obese children are prone to sleep apnea and bone and joint problems. Moreover, as these children become adults, they tend to remain obese, and are more likely to suffer health problems than people who became obese as adults.

Studies have found that children who spend time in front of screens, such as watching TV, are more likely to be obese than children who engage in other activities, even if they get the same amount of exercise However, one significant difference between obesity in children as opposed to in adults is that children are not in charge of their environment—how much free time they have, and when, what food is in the house, what sort of exercise they are able to get, leisure-time activities, and other aspects of daily life are in the hands of their parents and guardians. So it is the parents and guardians, understanding long-term consequences, who have to take the lead.

That means making healthy food available to kids, and giving them plenty of opportunities for exercise. For a child to successfully adopt healthy eating habits, it is necessary for the whole family to do so—children pick up what they see. This means preventing a child from being overweight is an excellent opportunity for everyone in the house to eat healthy and get in shape. Talking to kids about the truth behind snack and fast-food commercials—without being scary or unduly condemning—can help moderate the temptations.

Healthy Weight Begins At Home

Healthy habits begin at home. So it is with avoiding obesity: good lifestyle habits instilled in childhood will stay with someone. Childhood obesity, which affects 20 percent of kids in the United States, is a harbinger of health problems later in life; moreover, conditions such as type 2 diabetes and even heart problems, that used to strike adults almost exclusively, are increasingly affecting young people.

Weight problems run in families, but while people can have a genetic predisposition to being overweight or obese, another important factor is the lifestyle the whole household lives. Four out of five obese children with an obese parent will stay obese into adulthood, because in addition to an inherited tendency, they continue the habits developed at home as they grow. That means that preventing obesity has to be a family project—and it will benefit the adults as well.

Simply eating at home is an important step. By sitting down at the dinner table for family dinner most nights, you control portion sizes and ingredients, save money, and as a bonus, there is research indicating family dinner results in children who do better in school, are better behaved, and are more successful in life. You can still go out occasionally, but if dinner out isn’t an everyday occurrence, think how much less in the way of effort and expense it requires to make it a special occasion.

Portion control is an important aspect of the strategy. We eat with our eyes first, and the less we think we’ve eaten, the more it takes to feel satisfied. Studies show that simply eating off smaller plates can make us feel that we’ve eaten more, and are fuller. Keep the serving tray off the table—it’s more tempting to go for seconds without really thinking about it if the food is right there. Herbs and spices are also helpful in sating hunger, adding flavor without adding calories.

It’s not just about food. Exercise is also an important step in fighting obesity. It’s also another opportunity to bring the family closer together. Walking, jogging, playing sports, or even dancing as a family can be a great way to incorporate moving into your family life while maintaining a healthy weight. It doesn’t have to be competitive, either. Just make family fun night an active night rather than just sitting around.

Let’s Move at the Olympics

With the Olympic Games upon us—the opening ceremony is tomorrow—organizers and others are hoping people watching at home will be inspired to get out and get active. In fact, a delegation of American athletes and other dignitaries led by Michelle Obama are taking the opportunity to promote the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity and foster wellness.

Tomorrow Mrs. Obama is scheduled to host an event for students and U.S. military children as part of that initiative, co-sponsored by the children’s television channel Nickelodeon.

Saturday, the first day of competition, will be “Let’s Move! Olympic Fun Day.” At least 200 communities are on board for encouraging kids to not only cheer on America’s Olympic competitors but to get out and get moving themselves. In addition to meetups, suggested activities include running, swimming, tennis, soccer, volleyball, and bike rides. The idea is to use the games on television to inspire kids at home to get in more activity.

“Some of my fondest memories when I was young and not-so-young involve watching the Olympics on TV and cheering on Team USA,” the First Lady told reporters.

She hopes to use the Olympic spectacle to encourage American kids to make sports and physical activity a part of their lives, starting lifelong habits that will keep them fit and healthy as they grow to adulthood.

The United States isn’t the only country trying to use this occasion to get kids fit. In the host country, England, officials are also creating programs that use the Olympic Games to spur young people into taking up sports.

There, the Places People Play program is supposed to upgrade and improve sports facilities and playing fields and recruit and train volunteers to create programs in various towns to use those refurbished fields and facilities.