By Lisa Mosing, MS, RD, FADA, LifeScript Director of Nutrition
Saturday, August 19, 2006
The good news in the struggle to prevent obesity among children is that more parents are beginning to emphasize regular physical activity and healthier eating. And it is never too early to start, since studies have shown that children who are overweight or obese when they enter adolescence are much less likely to lose that weight subsequently. In fact, when polled, nearly seven in 10 health professionals said that parents should start taking steps to help their child maintain a healthy weight when they are around three years old...
According to a recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 92% of all Americans surveyed consider childhood obesity to be a serious national problem. This survey mirrors the observations reported in several studies.
However, parents are less concerned about obesity among children where their own families are concerned. And, parents view childhood obesity as a very serious national problem when they were concerned about their own children.
Obesity among Children: It Starts at Home
When interviewed in a recent nationwide poll, parents' cited their largest concern is how to change the sedentary habits of their children. Many parents can relate to the difficulty of unplugging children from video games, computers and television, and plugging them in to active outdoor play and family activities.
Even adults can relate to the temptation to park themselves on the couch or in front of the computer. However, studies have repeatedly shown that reducing time spent in front of television and computers has been proven to reduce children's weight gain. For example, in a study published in the journal Pediatrics, British researchers found that every additional hour of weekend TV viewing at age five increased the likelihood of obesity at age 30 by 7%.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health found that about two million U.S. children ages 12-19 have pre-diabetes, a condition linked to obesity and inactivity that puts them at risk for full-blown diabetes and heart problems.
This study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggested that lifestyle interventions such as regular physical activity and nutritious family meals can help prevent pre-diabetes from progressing. Lifestyle factors will influence any genetic tendencies to develop obesity among children, as well as childhood diabetes and heart disease, so it is never too early to help children begin to adopt healthier living.
Obesity among Children: Extra Problems Down the Line
Studies have confirmed what many health care professionals have long suspected, that those children who are overweight or obese tend to remain overweight or obese as they get older. Recently, the British Medical Journal reported that scientists who studied over 5,000 school children found that children who are overweight or obese when they enter adolescence are not likely to lose that weight, which increases their health risk.
As body weight increases, there is also an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and some cancers in the longer term, as well as a range of other chronic conditions. Anyone who has ever carried around a significant amount of excess weight can attest to the likelihood of chronic back problems.
Most health professionals will agree that the current epidemic of obesity among children is being driven by multiple factors. At the same time, beginning with environmental changes in the community, workplace and home, measures are being taken to halt the rising rates of childhood obesity.
Many readers may be old enough to remember when family life involved higher levels of physical activity, from opening your own garage door, to doing yard work, to turning the knobs on the television to change viewing channels. That is why many school districts are being encouraged by health care professionals to consider expanding school physical education, asking children to turn off cell phones, computers and other electronic equipment and engage in physical activity.
Results from an American Obesity Association survey show that the majority of parents believe that physical education or recess should not be reduced or replaced with academic classes. In addition, many corporations are beginning to offer suitable role models for physical activity, and communities are making activity-promoting changes in the environment. However, the most important role models for children are parents.
Nutritious Family Meals and More
According to a survey of members of the American Dietetic Association, parents play the primary role in preventing obesity. Dietitians suggested that food-related activities, such as involving children in menu planning, food selection and preparation of nutritious family meals, are the most effective ways to illustrate healthy eating habits. Reinforcing positive behaviors often works best for the adoption of new lifestyle behaviors, such as creating a healthy after-school snack. The goal is to aim for progress, not perfection.
Eating should be enjoyable and occasional treats, such as cookies, are part of healthy eating plan. Children need to develop healthy images of themselves and to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” According to the experts, excessively restrictive eating in childhood can lead to disordered eating in the future. Where nutritious family meals are concerned, balance is key!
Are You Making Your Child Fat?
Although you know how important it is to teach your child healthy habits, it can still be difficult to make the right choices in a world filled with fast food and sweets. Are you in control of your child’s healthy eating habits, or could your overly restrictive or permissive parenting style be making your child fat?