Clearly, our nation is concerned about childhood obesity. Recent news headlines read:
Youth Obesity Concerns Experts
Obama Signs Nutrition Bill Into Law
Weight Status as a Predictor of Being Bullied in Third Through Sixth Grades
Los Angeles Schools Ditch Chicken Nuggets, Add Sushi
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity in childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory ailments, orthopedic problems, depression and type 2 diabetes1. Unfortunately, the problem continues into adulthood: Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.2
What causes obesity?
Obesity is the result of “caloric imbalance,” which means the individual consumes too many calories in relation to the calories burned. While some medical illnesses can cause obesity, the vast amount of all obesity in childhood and adolescence can be related to genetics, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and emotional problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem or depression.
What can parents do?
Overweight or obese children should first be seen by a physician. Absent a physical disorder, obese children need to adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise. To help, parents can:
- Be a good role model. Plan meals, and eat them as a family.
- Make healthy choices available at home.
- Do not use food as a reward.
- Take part in physical activities the family can participate in together.
- Know what your child eats at school and what the school teaches about health and nutrition.
- Attend a support group (e.g. Overeaters Anonymous).
What can kids do?
Children can be tasked with the following aspects of a weight-management program:
- Change eating habits. Limit snacking, control portions and consume fewer calories.
- Make better food choices (eat fewer high-calorie foods and more low-calorie, natural foods).
- Drink water instead of soda or juice.
- Increase physical activity and have a more active lifestyle.
- Limit “screen time” (watching television, playing on the computer and with video games). Too often these activities are paired with snacking and eating meals while distracted.
Remember, overweight children often have fragile egos or low self-esteem. Stressful life events and family and peer problems can add to a child’s struggles. Parents of an obese child can improve their child's self-esteem by emphasizing strengths and positive qualities rather than focusing on the weight problem. When emotional problems are present, a psychiatrist can work with the child and his or her family to establish a solid treatment plan.
1 “Childhood Obesity,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/.
2 Torgan, C. (2002). “Childhood obesity on the rise,” The NIH Word on Health.
By Ruth Anderson