Posted on 19 April 2013.
Joseph Halphen PA-C,
Lake After Hours Central
Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, with 1 out of 3 kids now considered overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes (type 2), high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression as well. At Lake After Hours, we see a large percentage of our pediatric population that are overweight and already have an elevated blood pressure.
A number of factors contribute to becoming overweight: genetics, lifestyle habits, or a combination of both may be involved. In some instances, endocrine problems, genetic syndromes, and medications can be associated with excessive weight gain.
Much of what we eat is quick and easy from fast food which typically contains a high percentage of fat, to microwave and prepackaged meals. Daily schedules are so busy that there's little time to prepare healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, at home and when eating out, have grown greatly.
Now more than ever life is sedentary. Kids are now spending more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, than actively playing outside. Television is a major culprit. Kids younger than six years spend an average of two hours a day in front of a screen, mostly watching TV, DVDs, or videos. Older kids and teens average 4.5 hours a day watching TV, DVDs, or videos. When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen increases to over seven hours a day! Kids who watch more than four hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch two hours or less. Not surprisingly, TV in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight. In other words, for many kids, once they get home from school, virtually all of their free time is spent in front of one screen or another. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids over two years old not spend more than 1-2 hours a day in front of a screen. The AAP also discourages any screen time for children younger than two years old.
Many kids don't get enough physical activity. Although physical education (PE) in schools can help kids get up and moving, more and more schools are eliminating PE programs or cutting down the time spent on fitness-building activities. One study showed that gym classes offered third-graders just 25 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Current guidelines recommend that kids over two years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Babies and toddlers should be active for 15 minutes every hour (a total of three hours for every 12 waking hours) each day.
What can we do as parents to reverse this alarming trend? We can begin by speaking with our healthcare provider to assess the exact cause of the weight gain and develop a plan for success. Parents can help prevent childhood obesity by providing healthy meals and snacks, daily physical activity, and nutrition education. Healthy meals and snacks provide nutrition for growing bodies while modeling healthy eating behavior and attitudes. Increased physical activity reduces health risks and helps weight management. Nutrition education helps young children develop an awareness of good nutrition and healthy eating habits for a lifetime. Lastly, limit the amount of time the child spend in front of a video screen and encourage outdoor physical activity daily.