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Childhood Obesity Is No Small Problem: What to Look For

By Sara Butler

Childhood Obesity Is No Small Problem: What to Look For

Obesity is something many Americans struggle with. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and about one-third of Americans are obese. Although being overweight or obese is often something that concerns adults, over the last several decades American children have begun to struggle on the scale as well.

Parents want the best for their kids, but they also don’t want to force diet or lifestyle changes on kids if they don’t need it. The key is first to understand what childhood obesity is and what warning signs you must look for to know if your child is overweight or obese. If you can grasp that, then that is the first step to helping your child stay healthy and happy.

What Is Childhood Obesity?

To say that obesity is complex is an understatement. Many factors can contribute to obesity, including genetics, health conditions, medications, and even socioeconomic status. Yet the CDC does define childhood obesity by how your child measures on the body mass index or what their body fat percentage is.

There are growth charts that have body mass index (BMI) percentages broken down by height and weight, showing a healthy weight range for children depending on their sex and age. You can easily enter your child’s information into an online BMI calculator to see where they are in relation to other kids of the same age and sex.

It’s important to recognize that not every child who has a few extra pounds is overweight. Kids, just like adults, have different frames and builds. Plus, it’s normal for kids to be at different weights through the different stages of development. You simply cannot judge a child by how they look.

If your child measures as overweight or obese on the BMI, then it may be time to consult with a trusted medical professional about what you can do to help put them on a healthier path.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

As previously mentioned, obesity is complex. Scientists may not have uncovered all there is to know about why some people struggle with weight while others do not, but they know there are several factors that contribute, such as the following.

  • What a child eats
  • The amount of physical activity they get
  • How much sleep they get each night
  • Access to healthy meals and snacks
  • Genetic factors and family history
  • Any medications they may be taking
  • If they have a history of an illness that can cause weight gain

It’s important to be aware of the things that can put a child at risk for becoming overweight or obese because it can lead to a variety of health complications down the road. These complications include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, joint pain, and breathing problems. Plus, there can be many emotional and social consequences to being perceived as overweight or obese by their peers.

Should Children Be Dieting?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend placing a child on a diet. Instead, it’s a good idea to encourage positive lifestyle changes in children instead of focusing on weight loss. How can you do this? Here are a few easy ways.

Set a good example - Make meal planning a family affair and make sure to offer healthy snacks for kids in your home. Avoid added sugars or highly processed foods, and push better snacks for kids such as fresh fruit, yogurt, whole-grain crackers and peanut butter, or air-popped popcorn.

Offer new foods - Do you have a child who can subsist on chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese alone? Even picky eaters can be persuaded to try new things, you simply have to be persistent. Offer new foods several times, they may try it eventually!

Don’t use food as a reward - It’s not a good idea to set up expectations of food rewards for good behavior or to celebrate positive outcomes. Go for non-food rewards to encourage them.

Make sure they sleep enough - Even though children may use every tactic they can think of to avoid bedtime, understand that their health and happiness will be better if they get a good night’s sleep every night. There have been some studies linking too little sleep with a higher risk of obesity in both kids and adults. Everyone needs their beauty sleep!

Incorporating these things into your lives can help to make everyone in the household healthier.

Is Exercise Important to Managing Childhood Obesity?

Everyone knows that lack of activity is a risk factor for children when it comes to obesity, so exercise is key in the fight against it. Exercise helps to burn calories and keep weight stable, plus it helps to build muscle. Kids were made to run, frolic, and cause general mischief. Encourage them to stay active for at least 60 minutes every day.

As a family you can go on walks, ride a bike, go exploring, play fetch with the family dog, swim, jump on a trampoline, or whatever other activity you can have fun doing while you move. What you do isn’t important, it’s getting your bodies moving that is important.

Should Children Be Taking Supplements?

Many parents wonder if their child needs a vitamin supplement to stay healthy. The good news is that while a daily vitamin isn’t harmful to a child, they get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy diet alone. As long as they’re eating a variety of foods and sticking to healthy snacks, they likely don’t need a vitamin. But a diet of candy bars and mac and cheese is not a healthy diet.

Childhood obesity is a big problem in the United States, with an estimated 14.4 million children considered obese. This issue impacts kids emotionally and physically and can often set them up for a lifetime of complications associated with being overweight or obese.

As a parent, you should support your child no matter the number on the scale or what their BMI is. It’s vital to focus on encouraging them to be healthy and explaining why making healthy choices is so important. If you are concerned about your child, then make sure to reach out to a healthcare provider for guidance so you can develop a plan to help get them -- and the entire family -- back on track.

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