Understanding and Dealing with Childhood Obesity

Get the facts about childhood obesity

Overweight girl with doctor
Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

There are a lot of worries that go along with having kids, something you learn quickly the first time you see your child careening down a steep hill on a skateboard with no helmet. As your life (and theirs) passes before your eyes, you may not have the wherewithal to be grateful your child is active (if reckless). However, more and more, obesity is becoming the most unsafe thing we can do to our children.

The latest statistics are downright scary. The Center for Disease Control has some scary statistics about our overweight children:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and it has quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • Obesity in children between 6-11 has gone from 7% to 18% since 1980
  • In 2012, more than one-third of children and teens were overweight or obese.

We're All Overweight

So, we're fat, our kids are fat and we've got a big problem on our hands because obese kids usually become obese adults.

These numbers may sound scary, but there is something you can do if you have a child who is overweight or obese. First, you need to educate yourself a little on the dangers of obesity for your child. Some of those dangers include:

Children who are obese not only face health problems, but psychological consequences as well. Other kids might be picking on them in school because of their weight, which can only make things worse. Understanding some of the causes of childhood obesity can help you see where you're going wrong so you can start making better decisions for you and your family.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

There's no real consensus on the cause of obesity--either for adults or children. Possibly because there's more than one cause. You probably won't be too surprised by these culprits:

  • Genetics. Children of obese/overweight parents have a greater risk of obesity.
  • Diet. Many of us eat out, making home cooked meals a thing of the past. We're eating more fast food and foods that are high in calories and offer very little nutrition. Another major factor is that many kids are drinking extra calories that come from sodas and other sugary drinks.
  • Physical inactivity. Many experts talk about television, computers, video games and other things that entertain our children while keeping them sitting around for hours at a time. The CDC sites physical inactivity as the major cause of childhood obesity.
  • Environment. Our schools are also to blame since PE has gone by the wayside in many schools.  Some experts also believe that children are over-exposed to commercials for fast foods, candy, sodas, etc.

    The good news is that most of the causes of obesity (barring changing your child's DNA) can be changed. If your child is overweight or on the road to obesity, what can you do to help him or her lose weight and establish a healthy lifestyle?

    What You Can Do To Help Your Child

    Changing your child's eating and exercise habits means changing your own as well. After all, you're in charge of what your child eats at home and how much exercise he gets when he gets home from school. Plus, you're a role model. If you exercise and eat healthily, your child will see that and follow suit.

    Your first order of business is finding out if your child is overweight or obese. Your doctor should be the one to make this diagnosis, so make an appointment to have your child checked out by a professional. For information on how your doctor will figure this out, visit Kid's Health.

    Most experts agree that helping your child lose weight is a family affair. Everyone should be involved in planning meals, buying food and coming up with ways to be active together. Some tips offered by the NIH include:

    • Don't keep junk food in the house. If it's not there, they can't eat it and neither can you.
    • Get rid of sodas and other sugary drinks.
    • Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family.
    • If you do eat fast food, educate yourself about the healthy choices available. Many restaurants have nutritional information available on their websites or in the restaurant.
    • Don't worry if your child won't eat healthy foods at first. It takes the time to change how we eat, so be patient and keep trying.
    • Don't use food as a reward for good behavior.
    • Don't control the amount of food your child eats. Once you provide healthy foods, leave it up to her to decide how much she'll eat.

    When it comes to exercise, what you do depends on your child's age. If he's young, you don't need to set him up on a structured routine. The name of the game is FUN. Go to the park or the zoo, walk the dog, play ball in the backyard. Make it a habit of taking a walk before dinner or antoher activity that doesn't involve sitting around watching TV. Find out about any sports your child is interested in and encourage him/her to participate.

    If you don't know where to start, there are many resources available for you. ACE (the American Council on Exercise) has loads of information at their Youth Fitness Website, encouraging healthy kids and providing lots of resources for exercise, fitness, and health.  You can also find a wealth of ideas from our very own Family Fitness Expert, Catherine Holecko.

    You should also talk to your doctor about what you can do about your child's health as well as educate yourself about healthy eating and exercise (the library is a great place to start). Use available resources. Your community may have parks, trails, wildlife areas, playgrounds, pools and more that can offer fun ways to stay active for your kids.

    Source:

    Wang et al. Increasing caloric contribution from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices among US children and adolescents, 1988-2004. Pediatrics. 2008 Jun;121(6):e1604-14).

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