Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents, and is usually caused by eating too much and not getting enough exercise. Obesity in children living in the United States is of particular concern since 12.5 million children are overweight, and are at greater risk of serious health problems and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to the Office of the Surgeon General.
While there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, studies show the primary cause of children being overweight is due to lifestyle issues such as eating more calories than is needed to support their growing bodies, daily activities and metabolism. Diseases like Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome affect a very small proportion of children in society, whereas eating and exercise habits in families play a much larger role in the increase of childhood obesity.
Overweight children and adolescents are also more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that nearly 80% of overweight children between the ages of 10-15 were obese adults at the age of 25. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight children, also concluding that if excess weight occurs by the age of 8 years old, the likelihood of being obese as adults is far more severe.
Prevalence of Childhood Obesity
The risk factors and prevalence of childhood obesity threatens an entire generation of children, with serious health problems such as heart disease, strokes and cancer, causing scientists to forecast a 2 to 5-year drop in life expectancy unless drastic measures are taken to reduce or prevent obesity in children.
The most effective way of treating and preventing childhood obesity is for the entire family to adopt healthier eating habits and making exercise a priority. Dealing with overweight children, or preventing obesity in children, is a family matter that helps protect the health of children now and into their future. Parents who exercise poor nutritional habits and who lead sedentary lifestyles role model these behaviors for their children, with increased psychological problems such as low self-esteem and depression being common in overweight kids.
Kids are spending less time getting needed exercise, but more time parked in front of the TV, computer, or playing video-games. Sedentary kids are more likely to gain weight because they’re not burning calories through physical activity, but are often loading up on soft drinks, candy and other high-fat, high-calorie snacks and junk food.
Children that come from a family of overweight people may be predisposed to obesity, especially in a family environment where parents and other adults practice poor eating habits themselves, with high-calorie foods readily available and physical activity virtually nonexistent. Are you or your child overweight?
Treating and Preventing Obesity in Children
Express your unconditional love. Let your child know he or she is loved and appreciated whatever his or her weight. An overweight child probably knows better than anyone else that he or she has a weight problem. Overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement from their parents.
Be a good role model. The old saying, “practice what you preach”, couldn’t be more true. Parents are responsible for putting healthy foods in the kitchen at home, as well as leaving unhealthy foods on the grocery store shelves. You really can’t blame your kids for wanting junk foods; after all they taste good. But, you can and need to control the amount of access children have to unhealthy foods, making sure to have an abundance of healthy foods and snacks for you and your kids to eat.
Set realistic goals. Even if you believe your child is a very picky eater, you can still establish reasonable goals for your children such as having your child eat fresh fruit for afternoon snacks, or limiting fast-food meals to just once a month. Offer milk or water instead of sodas or high-calorie fruit drinks. Use small food portions for children, rather than heaping too much food on their plate, as more food can be added as needed.
Don’t use food as a reward. Using food to reward children for good behavior is extremely counter-productive. Don’t do it. Plan frequent fun family activities that the entire family can enjoy together as a reward, that also help increase physical activity for your children and for yourselves, as well as offering praise and encouragement. Keep the TV turned off during meals, and consider having the family go for a walk or to the park after dinner a couple times each week.
Keep it positive. Don’t focus your attention on the weight but rather on the goal to living a healthier lifestyle. Never make fun of your child’s weight, or criticize them for their appearance, as this will cause them to want to comfort themselves with even more food. Treating obesity in children takes time and effort, and should never be treated as if it were a race.
Forget the clean-plate obsession. Learn to recognize hunger cues, and when children show their hunger has been satisfied, don’t force them to finish everything on their plate. Even babies turn away from a bottle or breast when they are no longer hungry, so it’s important to reinforce healthy behaviors by encouraging children to only eat when hungry and stop eating when they’ve had enough in order to avoid childhood obesity.
Do you have any further suggestions for parents and families dealing with childhood obesity that you’d like to pass along? Please leave your comment or question below.
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