In the United States childhood obesity is increasing at an appalling rate. According to the CDC, in the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than tripled. In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Parents and healthcare practitioners need to start working together, not only recognize the children who are at risk but to provide treatment for those who are in desperate need.
Why should you care? Obesity carries significant health concerns, both immediate and long-term. Obese children are more likely to be obese in their adult lives. They are more likely to develop risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obesity will also put children at risk for bone and joint problems and is associated with the increased risk for many types of cancer, including breast, colon, cervix and prostate cancer.
What is the cause and what can we do to stop it? In most cases, obesity is the result of a “caloric imbalance,” meaning too few calories are expended for the number of calories being consumed. This is a direct result of behavioral and environmental factors, including a sedentary lifestyle which today’s adolescence has become accustomed. Children, if left to their own devices, would prefer to watch television, play video games or surf the internet. Why actually visit with your friends when you can “facetime” or “text” them on the mobile device of your choice? Unlike adults, who opt to go to the gym and exercise, kids should be encouraged to do what they do best . . . “Go play!”
In addition to physical activity, diet is the next major cause of childhood obesity. As a society, we are so overextended in our daily lives, that sitting down and having a home-cooked meal with our family is practically unheard of today. We resort to “eating on the go” and “fast food,” which sacrifices a nutritional meal for empty calories. Healthy eating habits need to start at home with the parents. Children can only eat what you provide for them. Start filling your refrigerator and pantry with healthy food options!
Healthy lifestyle habits, including nutritious eating and increasing physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing health related diseases. Work with your healthcare practitioner to start making changes today and improve your children’s health and quality of life for the years to come.