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Avoiding Childhood Obesity


Starting healthy strategies now can mean lifelong fitness



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Avoiding Childhood Obesity
September 2013

It's a hot-button topic in the news. We constantly hear of new studies, polls and breakthrough treatments for it. Our nation is obsessed with obesity – and for good reason. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the past 30 years, with more than one-third of children and teens considered overweight or obese in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That means parents have to work especially hard to help kids stay healthy and avoid the dangerous side effects of weight-gain, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep disorders, and social and psychological problems.

Nicole Turner is a registered dietitian in the Indianapolis area and she says the best thing parents can do is to lead by example. "When parents model healthy choices, children will be more likely to follow in their parent's footsteps."

Simple steps for better Health

There's no "magic pill" to preventing obesity. However, Turner says a simple step every family can take is cutting out sweetened, flavored drinks and opting for water instead. Eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting lots of physical activity are also keys to maintaining a healthy weight.

60 minutes of exercise daily improves strength and endurance, builds healthy bones and muscles, controls weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and improves blood pressure and cholesterol.

Many experts recommend a "5-2-1-0" program every day:
  • 5 - Eat five fruits or vegetables
  • 2 - No more than two hours of screen time
  • 1 - At least one hour of physical activity
  • 0 - Zero drinks that contain sugar (including fruit juice)

    In addition, getting enough sleep is essential for weight loss, says Turner. "Depending on the child's age – from teens to toddlers – kids need anywhere for 8.5 to 14 hours of sleep a day."

    Every child is different

    With so many sources of information on the subject, from doctors to websites, how can you know what's right for your child? Kidshealth.org breaks it down into simple guidelines by age:
    • Birth to age 1: Breastfeeding is shown to prevent excessive weight gain in babies, in addition to many other health benefits.
    • Ages 1 - 5: Begin introducing healthy habits. Offer a variety of healthy and delicious foods, and encourage toddlers to play actively.
    • Ages 6 - 12:Encourage kids to be active every day through organized sports, recess games or family exercise. Involve them in selecting healthy foods and preparing meals.
    • Ages 13 - 18: Teens want to make their own choices. Laying a good foundation for healthy decision-making when they were young will guide them now. Keep encouraging teens to exercise and eat well.
    • All ages: Limit media time. Cook and eat meals together. Follow the USDA's "MyPlate" recommendations for servings of each food group (www.choosemyplate.gov). Set a good example for your children by following these guidelines yourself!
    Need help? Just ask!

    If you are concerned about your child's weight, your pediatrician can assess your child's body mass index and discuss nutrition, exercise and any other questions you have. Most pediatricians review this information at the child's well-check visit, but if he or she doesn't, parents shouldn't hesitate to start the conversation.

    "Working with your child's pediatrician is very important," says Turner. A physician can ensure that the child is losing the right amount of weight at the right pace, and will often collaborate with a dietitian to advise families. "A dietitian's nutrition expertise can help guide food selection so that vitamins and nutrients essential to growth and development aren't compromised while calories are reduced," she says.

    Obesity is a fact of life for about one-third of Americans. There are many steps we can take to overcome it, but the best thing parents can do is to let their children know they are loved and accepted just the way they are. Health is important. Happiness is just as important. Hug your kids, then go outside and play.

  • Baby fat or overweight? How can I tell?

    It may be difficult for some parents to believe that their cute, chubby toddler is actually overweight. Doctors use Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine healthy or unhealthy weight in children. BMI can easily be determined using an online calculator such as kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growth/bmi_charts.

    Children ages two to 19 may fall into one of four categories:
  • underweight: BMI below the fifth percentile for age
  • normal weight: BMI at the fifth percentile and less than the 85th percentile
  • overweight: BMI at the 85th and below 95th percentile
  • obese: BMI at or above 95th percentile

    It's important to remember that BMI is usually a good indicator, but may be difficult to interpret for children experiencing a growth spurt or those who are especially athletic, since muscle weighs more than fat. It's always best to talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's weight.


  • Tags: Featured Article, Featured Article, Health, In This Issue, Parenting

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