Childhood Obesity: 5 Tips for a Healthier Home
3 min. read
Is junk food adding pounds, but subtracting healthy years from your child’s life? If that’s a concern, you’re not alone. Children’s healthcare topics made headlines this week, thanks to just-released studies about childhood obesity. The importance of exercise and nutritious meals for children received extra attention during First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to South Florida this week.
It’s a weighty topic. Research and public policy show that your child’s good health goes far beyond scale numbers and calorie counts, says Javier Hiriart, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group internist and pediatrician at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.
“It’s not just about the overweight child, but the entire family dynamic.” Dr. Hiriart says.
Here are his insights, including his top five tips for establishing a healthier home.
What does the latest research show?
The New England Journal of Medicine just published results from a report tracking 7,800 children from 1998 through 2007. During that period, about 33 percent of the overweight 5-year-olds became obese by eighth grade, the research showed.
And once becoming obese, most kids remained so during adulthood and faced increased risks for developing major illnesses and life-threatening conditions. The message: Early childhood (age 5 and younger) is an important time to intervene against obesity and long-term health risks, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Fortunately, there are signs that obesity rates are dropping for the preschoolers. In a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 43 percent decline in obesity for toddlers, ages 2-4, during the last 10 years. It’s the first significant decline in decades. The study was published Feb. 25 in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
How common is childhood obesity?
For school-age children (first grade and older) obesity has increased by more than 200 percent during the last 30 years, according to earlier data from the CDC.
In 1980, only 7 percent of kids, ages 6 to 11, in the U.S. were obese, but by 2010, that number had increased to almost 18 percent. During the same time frame, the number of obese adolescents (ages 12-19) spiked to 18 percent from only 5 percent previously. Altogether, nearly one-third of children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
What are your top five recommendations for preventing or handling childhood obesity?
- Acquire knowledge: “The number one tip is awareness,” Dr. Hiriart says. “It starts not just with the parents, but with the entire healthcare team, including the doctors and the nurses who work with your family.” Ask that healthcare team to explain your child’s growth chart based on height, age and peers.
- Create a healthy mindset: Help your child see beyond the numbers on the scale, he suggests. The issue is not about weight, but about good health and healthy choices. Make it easier for your child to pick a healthier lifestyle. Fix the odds by giving your child a choice between two healthy snacks (yogurt versus fruit) or two healthy activities (swimming, a game of tag or kickball).
- Stock up on healthy options: “Buy the right foods and have them available for your family,” Dr. Hiriart says. Healthy, but tasty options include fruits, veggies with or without low-fat dips, nuts and yogurt. Avoid buying sugary drinks, fast food and chips.
- Limit screen time: Step away from the digital screens, including those attached to family computers, tablets, television and smart phones. Look for replacement activities such as karate or outdoor group activities. “Team sports provide physical activities and give your child a chance to build friendships,” Dr. Hiriart says.
- Involve the entire family: “Get the entire family to buy in to healthier choices,” Dr. Hiriart says, adding that other family members may also struggle with diet and health. “Even if you don’t have a weight problem, you can still be a powerful ally and role model for your child.”
Dr. Hiriart reminds parents that their child’s lifestyle change can be easier and more successful in the longer term if the lifestyle parents and older family members lead represents healthy nutrition and regular exercise.
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