Childhood obesity is a major concern in the United States. Studies show 1 in 5 school aged children (6-19yrs) suffer from obesity. Children’s weight and height change frequently, so a child’s BMI is measured and then placed into a chart to see what percentile they fall into for their age and sex. Children are considered underweight if they are less than the 5th percentile. Normal or healthy weight children fall between the 5th to less than 85th percentile. If children are between 85th to less than 95th percentile they are considered overweight. Obese children generally fall in the 95th percentile or higher. Childhood obesity can lead to many healthy risks later in life, like heart disease and diabetes. They are also more prone to sadness and low self-esteem.
Causes of Obesity:
There are many factors contributing to obesity in children and young adults. The main cause is consuming more energy from foods and drinks than the body uses for healthy functioning. That means there is an energy imbalance, meaning more food and less physical activity. Along with an energy imbalance, there are other factors that also contribute to the obesity rates in the United States, such as genetics, metabolism, community/family, sleep duration, eating behaviors, physical activity, and some medical conditions.
The media also plays a part in childhood obesity. Ads influence food beliefs and preferences and children are the easiest to persuade. Around two billion dollars a year is spent targeting child and teens. With children spending most of their time huddled around TV screens and tablets, they are constantly being shown how great super sweet cereal is or how all the cool kids are eating a particular greasy fast food restaurant. It’s up to parents to set limits on screen time and unhealthy foods.
Disease and Obesity:
Obese children are at a major risk of developing lasting problems if weight is not maintained. Some of these conditions are:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Early heart disease
- Bone problems
- Eating disorders
How to Help:
Physical activity and healthy eating habits play a huge role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Parents should never point out weight issues, instead talk about concerns your child may have about their weight. It is important to be supportive. When deciding to switch bad habits for good, make it a whole family affair. Singling out one child will generate negative feelings towards their weight.
Unhealthy family eating habits are passed down; creating a cycle that can be hard to break. High fat, lots of sugar, large portion sizes, and eating nothing but fast food places are some poor eating habits that are easy to fix. Slowly add healthier options to each meal and even let your children help pick out healthy foods. By allowing your child to be present in the kitchen, this will help build up food knowledge and confidence. Try going grocery shopping together! I know this can be difficult especially when boredom strikes and kids become impatient, but plan a short trip where you only pick out fruits and vegetables to try.
Along with changing the family’s diet, adding fun physical activity can make a huge difference. Set time aside and plan activities the whole family can participate in, such as walking, biking, or swimming. A key thing to remember is not making physical activity and healthy eating a chore but something fun the whole family enjoys. Lead by example, if your children see you having fun being active, they will also want to be active!
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, no matter the age. With my little one, I try to get creative in the kitchen. I constantly switch up how I make certain foods, since my daughter gets bored easy. I also hide vegetables inside foods. In the end, it’s all about what works best for you and your family. By making health a priority, you are setting your family up for a healthy future.