Childhood obesity is a rising epidemic in the United States. Obesity for children is defined as Body Mass Index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 19.3% of children ages 2-19 (approximately 12.2 million individuals) are considered obese. The prevalence is higher in the minority and low socioeconomic groups.
Children who are obese are more likely to develop high blood pressure and cholesterol (risk factors for cardiovascular disease), diabetes, respiratory issues like asthma and sleep apnea, musculoskeletal discomfort, fatty liver disease, gallstones, as well as psychological problems like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Many factors are contributing to the rise in childhood obesity, including behavior, genetics, socioeconomic status, and activity level, to name a few. Some things, such as genetics, are nonmodifiable. However, there are many components that are modifiable. Working with children to change their behaviors and increase their activity levels can help keep their weight down.
The biggest thing that we can change is behavior. It is easy to reach for foods high in sugar, fat, and calories as they tend to taste pretty good. However, this is an area where even the smallest change can result in big results. Try eliminating fruit juices or other beverages that are high in sugar and reach for water instead. Snacks are another opportunity where you can limit your caloric and sugar intake. Skip the sweets and reach for fresh fruit or veggies.
Pay attention to portion size. Reducing your intake of carbohydrates and starchy food can lead to weight reduction. Try eating dinner together at the table, with no television or electronics. Paying attention to what we eat can result in feeling full while eating less. Another great tip is to allow kids to be involved in cooking and food preparation, as it makes them excited to try what they help to make and prepare. Make it fun, look up healthy recipes they want to try, and get them involved in preparing/cooking the dish.
Encourage your kids to increase their level of activity. Focus on fun activities, and if they enjoy the activity, they will be more likely to want to participate. If they enjoy sports like football or soccer, get them involved in a community sports program or get the neighborhood kids together for a quick game. Another great way to get kids on their feet is to get them active toys, such as jump ropes, hula hoops, or skates. Limit the use of electronics and TV time so they have more time to spend doing physical activities. Try to get involved with what they are doing. Join them for a bike ride or a basketball game. Seeing you get physical and setting the example will only increase their desire to want to engage too. However, be sure not to push exercise or make it seem like punishment, as this will only deter them. The key is to be supportive and encouraging without being demanding.
While childhood obesity is of growing concern, it is one in which we can curb with a thoughtful and targeted approach. As discussed, the issue is multifaceted, and some of the factors are not modifiable. There are many that are. Focus on changing behaviors and encouraging healthy choices when it comes to food.
Encourage kids to get physically active and exercise while making it fun. If you notice no change in weight after changing diet and increasing physical activity, you should consult your healthcare provider, as there may be an underlying medical condition that may be playing a role.