Obesity Prevention

With summer now upon us, it’s a great opportunity to take a look at children’s eating and exercising habits!

Childhood obesity is fast becoming an epidemic. Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of children becoming obese and developing related diseases. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, and they are also at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.

The cause of excess weight and obesity is simple: children get too many calories with too little exercise.  Calories are a measurement of energy store that we put into our bodies; if we don’t use the energy, it gets stored for later use in the form of fat tissue.  As we expend energy (exercising, breathing… living!), we use the calories we’ve eaten and then fat tissue if necessary. Overweight children are defined by Body Mass Index (BMI) > 85%. Obesity in children is defined by BMI > 95%.

A nutritious diet is necessary to maintain good health and healthy wait. Vegetables contain multiple vitamins and minerals that are healthy for the body, and they’re also a very low calorie food. Fruits contain healthy nutrients as well, and are an essential part of any healthy diet. Another important staple to a healthy diet is protein. Making sure children get enough vegetables, fruits, and proteins is a key to finding that good balance. Be creative in your cooking and serving — and don’t be afraid to “hide” vegetables. (A great cookbook to help you do that is Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.)

Exercise is the second large component of remaining healthy. Simply put: kids need exercise! They may not always like it or want it, but they need it. Now that the weather is turning nice, send them outside for some fun and activity! We recommend less than 2 hours per day of “screen time” — that includes computer, TV, and video games.

Family exercise time is a great way to strengthen both muscles and relationships.  Exercise does not have to be rigorous. Take a walk as a family, go on a bicycle ride (wearing helmets, of course!), play some pick up football or basketball. Summer vacations are always a fun time to be active as well; plan walking tours instead of driving around, hike, or just incorporate as much walking into your time away as possible.

And remember: be a good role model for your children. If they see you eating healthy and exercising, they’ll do those things too!

Here are a few great websites you can uses as resources on this topic:

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/npao/index.htm

http://www.mypyramid.gov

http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/default.aspx

Stacey Stratton, a Kids Plus care provider, is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics.