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Childhood Obesity – What Parents Can Do

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced the inception of her “Let’s Move” campaign, which addresses the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States.  According to the “Let’s Move” website, “Childhood obesity or excess weight threatens the healthy future of one third of American children.    Obesity rates tripled in the past 30 years, a trend that means, for the first time in our history, American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents.” *

 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Obesity is the result of caloric imbalance (too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed) and is mediated by genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health impacts:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
  • Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.”

Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy, and parents expect that their children will enjoy a longer lifespan than the parents will have.  But these expectations may no longer be the reality in America today.  What can parents do?

As noted by the CDC, healthy lifestyle habits (“behavioral factors” shaped by “environmental factors”) hold the key.

Behavioral factors include the amount of exercise the children participate in on a regular basis, the quantity of food consumed, and the quality of food consumed (i.e., the consumption of fatty, sugary, and salty foods).   Parents are encouraged to ensure that their children get adequate daily exercise.  Exercise does not need to be drudgery.  Nature hikes, hide-and-go-seek, youth sports leagues, and other activities are fun ways to exercise.  Parents are also encouraged to ensure that their children consume smaller portions of food.  And parents should ensure that their children consume healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables (thus parents should restrict access to fatty, sugary, and salty foods).  Strawberries, baby carrots, apples, oranges, celery sticks, and string cheese all make excellent snacks.   

Environmental factors include all the environments to which children are exposed . . . environments that help shape how the children feel about exercise, food consumption, and body image.  These environments typically include the children’s homes, childcare settings, schools, and communities.  Parents have significant control over the home environment, so parents can lead by example (exercising and eating right themselves).  If parents learn that their children’s childcare settings, schools, or communities are not reinforcing the values of health and life, the parents are encouraged to step up and speak out, be a voice for change for their children

“Let’s Move” advocates for corrective measures on a variety of fronts.  In addition to parental refocusing, “Let’s Move” is seeking improved calorie labeling on food and soft drinks, better nutrition and exercise in schools, and increased access to low-cost, healthy food in poor areas.  Because the nation’s youth are at risk, all stakeholders (parents, childcare representatives, school representatives, and governmental representatives, to name a few) will need to band together to advocate for the health and well-being of tomorrow’s leaders.  But our children deserve no less.

* According to Nannies4hire.com and Care4hire.com, surveys of nannies and babysitters in 2009 and 2010 show that children who have nannies or babysitters fare far better than the national average for activity level, consumption of healthy quantities and qualities of foods, and weight ranges.  For example, in 2009, 7.7% of nannies and babysitters stated that the children in their care were “overweight by at least 10 lbs.”  In the same study conducted a year later, 10.2% of nannies and 10.5% of babysitters indicated that the children in their care were “overweight by at least 10 lbs.”  This compares to the national average of approximately 33% (as per the “Let’s Move” website).  Consequently, it would appear that having a nanny or babysitter as a resource for children is now proven to improve the lives and lifespans of those children

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