As physical activity and healthy eating in children decreases, overweight and obesity in children and adolescents increases.
According to the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2003-2004, an estimated 1 7%of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are overweight (as classified by the 1998 pediatric obesity evaluation and treatment expert committee recommendations). Even more alarming, overweight increased from 7.2 to 13.9% among 2-5 year olds and from 11 to 19% among 6-11 year olds between 1988-94 and 2003-2004. Among adolescents aged 12-19, overweight increased from 11 to 17% during the same period.
From the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the project "Healthy People 2010" has included as a health objective to reduce the incidence of obesity by the year 2010. Even so, statistics show that obesity among young people is rising rather than declining. This is extremely worrisome. Overweight children and adolescents are at a greater risk of becoming obese adults, and of developing related health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. These health problems are the leading causes of death in the United States.
One of the more harmful consequences of obesity in children is the development of type 2 diabetes, which in the past occurred most frequently in people over 40. Type 2 diabetes is now becoming increasingly common in overweight and obese children and adolescents with first-generation relatives who suffer from diabetes. Hispanics are at greater risk of developing diabetes than any other ethnic group. Young people who are diagnosed with diabetes typically are not practicing healthy lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and physical activity. Children's diets across the country are becoming increasingly high in fat and sugars, while at the same time their physical activity levels are decreasing. As physical activity levels decrease, there has been a rise in time spent by children watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the Internet. Similar to adults with type 2 diabetes, children that do not control their blood sugar levels carefully, will suffer from health problems affecting their eyesight, feet, and kidneys.
Children can be physically active even if they don’t participate in structured sports programs. By limiting the time kids spend watching TV, on the computer, and playing video games to certain times of the day, their source of fun can be redirected. They can enjoy activities such as walking the dog, riding a bike, and skating. These are activities that parents, teachers, and friends can participate in and also benefit from.
Teaching children and teenagers good eating habits, especially if they are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, can have very positive long-term effects. Preventing overweight and obesity is ideal. Once kids become overweight or obese, and have already learned poor eating and physical activity habits, it is harder to teach them to change. Depending on the age of the children, there are different approaches to helping them lose weight. In most cases, it is not appropriate for children lose weight. Most strategies focus on improving health behaviors, and having kids maintain weight, because as they grow, they will become a more appropriate weight for their height. Limiting a child's food intake, may affect their physical development or could potentially cause eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia.
Parents need to model healthy behaviors that they want their children to practice in the home. If your child is experiencing a weight problem, it is best to seek the advice of health care professionals that can teach you how to help. Establishing healthy habits as a family not only has the desired effects on the child or teenager’s weight, it helps to strengthen family relationships.
*Dietitian with the MyDiet™ Team
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