“One of the greatest responsibilities we have as a Nation is to safeguard the health and well-being of our children,” so stated President Obama in a September 1, 2010 Presidential Proclamation that established September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. And, I’d like to add, just in the nick-of-time.
Over the past four decades, obesity rates in the United States have soared at an alarming rate. Childhood obesity has increased more than fourfold among children ages 6 to 11 with some 23 million children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 now either obese or overweight.
This epidemic puts nearly one-third of America’s youth at early risk for Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke – all conditions usually associated with adulthood. At $14 billion per year in direct health costs, the financial implications for our nation today and in the future are sobering.
If protecting the health and well-being of American children is a critical endeavor, then today’s adults must ensure that young people receive a healthy start in life. The first step is to recognize the symptoms of obesity.
Not every child carrying extra pounds is overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames and some carry different amount of body fat at various stages of development.
Your child’s doctor can help you figure out if your child’s weight poses a health threat by calculating his or her Body Mass Index and comparing it to a growth chart of other children of the same sex and age. If you’re concerned, this is the place to start.
Many risk factors – usually working in combination – increase your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, most of the time the culprit is too much food and too little exercise.
The regular consumption of high-calorie foods, such as fast food, baked goods and vending machine snacks can easily cause your child to gain weight. Soft drinks, candy and desserts only exacerbate the problem.
Children who don’t move, don’t burn calories. A steady diet of television and Xbox is deadly to a child’s waistline.
A family history of overweight adults and a home environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn’t encouraged seal a young person’s fate. Toss in a culture where parents overeat to cope with stress or emotions and a child is toast.
The sad tale – besides the known health consequences of childhood obesity – are the socioeconomic complications. Children often tease or bully their overweight peers, which can result in a loss of self-esteem and increased risk of depression.
What’s a parent to do? The experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend you start with yearly well-child visits with your healthcare provider.
The next step is to eat healthy. Parents are the ones who buy and prepare the food and decide where the food is eaten.
Purchase nutritious foods, take your children along to the grocery store to educate them and make sure that there are always healthy snacks available. Limit sweetened beverages, including fruit juice and limit the number of time you eat out – especially at fast-food restaurant.
To increase your child’s activity level, limit computer and TV time to no more than two hours a day, emphasize activity over exercise and find outdoor activities your child likes to do.
And finally, if you want a child who eats healthy and is active, set a good example. Children are much more likely to emulate their parents than to do what they say.
Cord Prettyman is a certified Master Personal Trainer and owner of Absolute Workout Fitness and Post-Re-hab Studio in Woodland Park. He can be reached at 687-7437 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.