Health 2006

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Childhood obesity: What parents can do

Over the past 30 years, the rate of obesity in the United States has more than doubled for preschoolers and adolescents, and it has more than tripled for children ages 6 to 11.
Obese children get a head start on health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, often carrying these problems into an obese adulthood. If this trend continues, obesity may soon top smoking as the nation's most preventable cause of death.
The reasons for a child's obesity are complex. But the most common factors combine too much screen time — including television, computers and video games — with too much junk food. And the best solution is to reduce your entire family's intake of both.

Good for everyone
Don't single out the overweight members of your family for lifestyle changes. Eating healthier foods and getting more exercise is good for everybody. Children tend to mimic their parents, so it pays to be a good role model. If you don't want your children eating french fries, don't eat them yourself. Play basketball with the kids after dinner, or take a family walk. Organize family outings that involve physical activity — such as bike riding, skating or hiking.

Parents have control
Parents are the ones who buy the food, cook the food and decide where food is eaten. Even small changes can make a big difference in your family's overall health.
When buying groceries, choose fruits and vegetables over convenience foods high in sugar and fat. Always have healthy snacks available. And never use food as a reward or punishment.
Limit sweetened beverages, including those containing fruit juice. These drinks provide little nutrition in exchange for their high calories. They also can make your child feel too full to eat healthier foods.
Select recipes and methods of cooking that are lower in fat. For example, bake chicken instead of frying it.
Put colorful food on the table: green and yellow vegetables, fruits of various colors, and brown (whole-grain) breads. Limit white carbohydrates: rice, pasta, bleached bread and sugar (desserts).
Sit down together for family meals. Make it an event — a time to share news and tell stories. Eating in front of the television fosters mindless munching.
Limit your children's recreational screen time to fewer than two hours a day.
During your child's physical exams, ask the doctor to show you the growth curves giving percentiles for height, weight, and body mass index (BMI). These allow you to compare your child with the norms for age and sex.

Don't make it a battle
Parents often must balance on a tightrope between giving too much and too little attention to their child's obesity. Because many overweight children already feel bad about themselves, you should make sure they know you love them unconditionally.
Offer healthy food to your children, but don't force it on them. Avoid fad diets. In many cases, simply maintaining a child's present weight is good enough — providing the opportunity for the child to grow into his or her pounds.

Minorities at higher risk
Although the obesity rate has increased dramatically for all U.S. children, certain ethnic minorities — blacks, Hispanics and American Indians — have been experiencing the highest rates of increase. Nearly 25 percent of children in these ethnic groups are obese by medical standards.
Poverty is another risk factor. Between 1986 and 1998, the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables increased substantially more than did the cost of carbonated drinks, meat, sweets and snacks. So it's literally cheaper to eat unhealthy foods.

Improve school food
To help make ends meet, some schools have installed vending machines selling soft drinks and snacks. The schools typically receive a percentage of the sales from these machines. Parents can request that their local school boards require all food and beverages served or sold at school to meet accepted nutritional standards.
Parents also can advocate for daily physical education (PE) classes for all students. PE classes have been reduced or even eliminated in many schools because of budget constraints. Latchkey children often aren't allowed to play outside their homes until their parents get home, so exercise time at school is even more important.

Worth the time
Many families feel they don't have the time it takes to prepare healthier meals and exercise more. Shopping, cooking, sharing a meal and cleaning up do take longer than zipping into the drive-through lane at a fast-food restaurant.
But the dangers of childhood obesity are real, and they are starting to take a toll. Helping set your kids on the path to a healthy future is one of the most important things you can do for them. Your investment in time will pay big dividends throughout their entire lives.
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  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger steffie said…

    I think that there are actually parents that are organizing around the issues of quality food in schools, vending machines and phyiscal education classes. In addition, I know that Jamie Oliver - the chef - did a lot with the Education Department in England to improve the food that children are served in school. It would be interesting to look into more of what he did there.

  • At 3:22 PM, Blogger nurit said…

    As much as parents try at home, I know from my own kids that it is almost a lost cause out in the environment. Just about everything offered to children is unhealthy and they have to know so much and to work so hard to select the 'better foods'.

  • At 3:35 PM, Blogger soukphpb said…

    Parents definately play a huge role in your eating habits. My mother worked a lot when I was young and she always managed to prepare diner for us in the morning or on the weekend and we would eat the leftover for the week. There was no junk food in my house (chips, candy, cookies or anything sweet) and soda was not allowed either. I resented her a bit and went to my friend's house and ate most of their junk. But today when I'm older, I don't crave junk food or soda. I'm also very fond of fruits, vegetables and good old home cooking to fast food. So I do have my mother to thank for my good diet and health.

  • At 3:45 PM, Blogger Jessie Daniels said…

    What's the source for this post? Is it all original (written by you) content? If not, you need to post a link to the source.

  • At 4:57 PM, Blogger Liudmila said…

    I think parents are responsible for educating you about healthy eating habits and when you are a grown person, you should be responsible for eating healthy and educating your own children.


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