The obesity epidemic in the U.S. is not only affecting the adult population. In the past three decades, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents.
The numbers are startling and much like adults, obese or overweight children are at a higher risk for chronic conditions associated with cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), in a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
In addition, Erica Reynolds, M.D., M.Ed., a pediatric endocrinologist at Carilion Clinic, noted that she has seen an uptick in adolescents and pre-teens with type II diabetes and even younger children with insulin resistance or prediabetes. Obese adolescents are also more prone to feelings of sadness and low self-esteem because of their weight issues.
“For most children, obesity is a combination of too many calories and too little physical activity,” noted Dr. Reynolds. “And since habits are established in early childhood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin early.”
So, how can we help our kids get healthy? Dr. Reynolds explained that the whole family must get involved.
“It is not going to work if you are only trying to change the lifestyle of the child,” she said. “The family members need to change together and your child has to see you making healthy choices such as preparing healthy foods and exercising regularly.”
Since it is difficult to put a child on a diet, Dr. Reynolds encourages parents to focus on permanent lifestyle changes by doing the following:
- Provide healthy meals and snacks to not only nourish your child but help them develop healthy eating habits. Visit Choosemyplate.gov/kids for a guide and other resources just for kids.
- Increase physical activity to help manage your child’s weight and reduce any health risks.
- Educate your children so they can develop an awareness of good nutrition and healthy eating habits for a lifetime.
To make it easy for her patients and their families, Dr. Reynolds prescribes the “95210” code. It is what every kid needs to be healthy:
9 hours of sleep every night
5 fruits and vegetables per day
2-hour screen time limit
1 hour of physical activity per day
0 sugar sweetened beverages per day (this includes soda, juice, and sports drinks)
Focusing on health together as a family will not only help your child combat obesity but it will help the whole family get healthier. If you are concerned about your child’s weight or health risks, talk to you health care provider. Assessing obesity in children is difficult because children grow in unpredictable spurts, so it is best to have a health care professional examine your child.