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Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. These tips can help kids stay healthier.

Overeating, lack of exercise and unhealthy diets are creating an obesity epidemic in children and teenagers across the nation. Obesity now affects more than 18% of U.S. children and teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Why Childhood Obesity Is a Problem

Low self-esteem and bullying issues aren’t the only potential consequences of kids being overweight. Children and teenagers who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, cancer, diabetes and heart disease as they age.

A research study conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute illustrates the devastating impact obesity can have on children’s lives. The study followed 1,811 children from the first years of life until they were 11 or 12. Children who were overweight as toddlers had stiffer arteries, thicker arterial linings and a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome occurs if you have high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, high triglyceride levels and excess fat around the waist. People who have the syndrome are more likely to suffer heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

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“Louisiana’s childhood obesity rate is the highest in the country. Just under 20% of children between the ages of 10 and 17  are obese. The national average is 15.8%. The statistics are not much better for younger children. Children ages 2 to 5, 12.5% are obese and ages 6 to 10, 18.4% are obese.”

-Dawn R. Vick, MD, Pediatrician

How Parents Can Help Children Avoid Obesity

As a parent, you strive to keep your kids as healthy as you can. Helping them avoid obesity can go a long way in meeting that goal. Here are a few ways to get kids on track to achieve and maintain a healthier weight:

  • Make regular exercise a priority: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend 30 minutes of interactive play time daily for babies, three hours of physical activity for children 3 to 5, and one hour of moderate to vigorous activity for children 6 and older most days of the week. Sports and organized activities aren’t the only ways to keep kids active. Your children can meet activity recommendations by playing games in the backyard, running through a homemade obstacle course or taking family walks and bike rides.
  • Limit screen time: Given the choice, many kids would rather spend their free time playing digital games, texting with friends or watching the latest TikTok videos than participating in more active hobbies. Although your children may need their digital devices for schoolwork and socializing, taking a break for an hour or two every day certainly won’t harm their relationships or prevent them from completing homework.
  • Offer healthy meals and snacks: Eating sugary foods and beverages, high-carbohydrate snacks and fried foods can cause weight gain whether you’re a child or an adult. Whole grain pasta and bread, fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, low-fat dairy products, and poultry, fish and lean meats are much better choices. Does your son or daughter have a sweet tooth? Make treats healthier by following the Mayo Clinic’s recommendation to reduce sugar in baked goods by 1/2 to 1/3 – you often can’t even taste the difference.
  • Model portion sizes: It’s easy to eat too much when you overestimate portion sizes. For example, 1/2 of a bagel, 1 cup of dry cereal, 1 slice of bread or 1 teaspoon of salad dressing all equal one serving. You can find additional serving sizes on the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website.
  • Involve kids in meal prep: Your kids may take more interest in healthy eating if they help you plan and prepare meals. You’ll find plenty of recipes online that are tasty, nutritious and kid-approved.

Concerned about your child’s weight? Making these lifestyle changes can help keep your children – and the whole family – healthier.

“The two most important factors in preventing childhood obesity are a nutritious balanced diet and regular exercise or physical activity.  I really like the 5•4•3•2•1 Geaux message!
  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • 4 servings of water a day
  • 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day
  • 2 or less hours of screen time a day
  • 1 or more hours of physical activity a day”

-Dawn R. Vick, MD, Pediatrician

 

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Date Last Reviewed: July 16, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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