The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) results in 1999 to 2000 showed that close to 15% of children and adolescents are overweight. These numbers showed a stunning and alarming increase in childhood obesity and overweight beginning in the 1980s. In the past decade, the statistics have almost doubled. What’s going on with our kids?
Studies have proven that overweight and obese children are at much greater risk of becoming overweight and obese adults than healthy weight children. At the same time, these children are at much greater risk for all of the health complications associated with overweight and obesity.
Experts are profoundly alarmed at these statistics and warn of an expected explosion in the numbers of obese individuals in the next two decades. The costs of this explosion will be massive, in terms of health, health care related costs and productivity.
Xenical is the only FDA approved weight loss drug for use in adolescents, children and diet pills.
How can parents encourage a healthy weight for children? As with adults, the keys are diet and exercise.
Encouraging proper eating habits and teaching kids when they’re young about healthful diets helps kids to develop life long, good eating habits. This teaching and guidance starts in the home. What is considered normal for the parents, including serving sizes and balanced, healthful diets, will be learned by the children. All foods that are
high in sugar and fat should be eaten in great moderation and considered ‘special’. The child who drinks 3 cans of soda after school does not understand that soda is a treat. The child that doesn’t eat fruit every day likely never will. The child that doesn’t understand what a proper portion of food is will consider eating smaller portions of food a ‘diet’. Studies show that eating behavior is learned when we are young and is incredibly difficult to change as we get older.
Experts point to a number of obvious causes of obesity in children related to food consumption. Included in their advice are the points below:
- Avoid fast food. Fast food should be a special treat.
- Don’t eat in front of the television. A meal should be considered an event.
- Limit snacks to healthful foods, such as fruit, cheese, nuts and crackers.
- Always eat proper portion sizes.
- Allow a child to eat treats in moderation. Food considered ‘bad’ will often be more desired.
Encouraging physical activity in children is far easier than trying to teach it to adults. Kids love to play. Fitness trainers and exercise gurus are not necessary. An active kid is a happier kid. These kids sleep better, learn better and interact better with others. As in the case of teaching kids healthy eating habits young, the same is true of exercise. A child who grows up physically active every day has far greater odds of becoming an adult who exercises regularly. It is simply a normal part of life. Encourage kids to engage in sports that they enjoy, instead of forcing your chosen sport on them. As well, engage in physical activity with your children. Go the park with them, fly a kite with them, take them swimming or bicycle with them.
Experts encourage parents to:
- Avoid permitting many hours a day in front of the television.
- Limit time on the computer
- Engage in activities with your children
- Make physical activity fun
Both good eating habits and physical activity are learned behaviors. Parents need to ensure that they provide a good model for a child. “Do as I say, not as I do” is sure to backfire where diet and exercise are concerned.
Teaching children positive lifestyle habits when they’re young is critical in helping them to grow into healthy adults. Overweight children are at increased risk of developing a number of potentially serious health conditions as they age. If you are unsure how to encourage weight loss in your child, talk to a professional about methods you can use and that you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle. Successfully managing weight in your child could very well be the most important aspect of ensuring that your child is in good health.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD