Childhood obesity in the US affects nearly 13.7 million children and adolescents nationwide – that’s about 1 out of every 5 kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recognition of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in September, we’re sharing information about obesity and seven ways we can all help kids and improve their health.
First, why is obesity bad for everyone – but especially kids?
Carrying excess weight at any age can have grave implications. But for children, the implications can be emotional as well as physical. Children with obesity are more likely to be bullied and teased, and suffer from mental health issues, social isolation and low self-esteem.
Physically, obesity in children can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and asthma.
There also might be subtle indicators that a child’s weight may be impacting other aspects of their health:
- Poor physical endurance or ability to keep up with friends
- Shortness of breath with exertion
- Snoring or long pauses in breathing while sleeping
- Consistent complaints of pain in their knees, ankles or hips
- Swelling or fluid accumulation in their lower legs or fee
Adding to these issues, children with obesity are more likely to struggle with obesity as adults, contributing further to risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What causes obesity?
There are many risk factors that can lead to obesity. Some involve family genetics or hormonal imbalances, or even genetic disorders. There are also many risk factors that are environmental, such as diet, lifestyle, and physical activity. Imbalances in any of these can result in excess weight and obesity.
Income, as a social determinant of health, can also play a role. The CDC reports that the prevalence of obesity is almost 10% higher in children from low-income families versus high-income families.
Despite these many risk factors, in its simplest terms, obesity is caused by eating too many calories, eating too much of the wrong types of calories, and exercising too little. Understanding this, there are things we can all do to take action to fight childhood obesity and help kids reach their full potential.
- Start with the drinks. This is where kids tend to consume excess calories without even realizing it. Work with your child to decrease the number of high-sugar drinks, including soda and juice, to one per day.
- Teach your child about lifestyle choices. This includes eating appropriate portion sizes, seeking out balanced meals, and increasing physical activity. It helps to set a good example – kids are watching and will mirror how you prepare food and eat.
- Involve children in meal planning, letting them choose from a variety of healthy meals. Then take them to the store with you. Have them be part of the shopping, preparing, and cooking process so they feel empowered.
- Make healthy eating and being active a family goal where everyone participates and takes an active interest. Make good choices together, and after dinners, take a family walk or play outside.
- Start healthy eating habits as soon as you can, as early as ages one to five. This is when children are starting to eat solid foods and are developing their palates.
- Cut down on electronics use, including TV, cell phones, computers, and gaming consoles each day. Or offer “trades” with your kids – Perhaps one walk with the family pet earns them one hour of screen time.
- Encourage eating meals and snacks at the dinner table as often as possible. This makes meals a family event and discourages binging or mindless snacking on their own.
Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic, and it’s imperative we give kids the support they need to be healthy and thrive.