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What You Can Do About Childhood Obesity

The CDC has reported that the childhood obesity statistics have dropped slightly since 2008 (1%) in some states, which is fantastic. But that doesn't mean it's no longer a serious problem. In 2010, over 1/3 of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, and a significant drop in those numbers has yet to happen. Like it or not, that is a big fat red flag that can't be ignored.

The Serious Risks

Childhood obesity is not something that will just go away as they grow up. In fact, the younger they show signs of being overweight, the more likely they will be obese in adulthood. Here are some of the medical issues that develop in overweight children.
  • Metabolic Syndrome: a precursor to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome is characterized by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess belly fat.
    • 70% of obese youth are at risk of heart disease developing as an adult.
  • Pre Diabetes: high blood sugar that in an indication of type 2 diabetes developing in adulthood.
  • Bone and Joint Problems: excess weight puts too much pressure on growing joints causing problems that only exacerbate later on, requiring special medical attention.
  • Early Puberty: hormone imbalances become a problem in overweight children, causing them to begin puberty earlier than the average child.
  • Asthma: breathing problems due to extra weight can also manifest in the form of asthma or sleep apnea, a potentially serious breathing disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep.
  • Social and Psychological Issues: this is a big one. Children who are overweight tend to be victims of bullying and as a result of insecurities, maintain a higher anxiety level than the average child.
    • Anxiety can lead to serious behavioral problems and learning disabilities.

Other factors

Some children who have large body frames are not obese. They are normal. So just looking at a child cannot accurately determine if they are at risk. Ask your child's doctor. Most pediatricians have been tracking their patients growth and Body Mass Index (BMI) since birth, and those charts can tell you if they are on the right track. Genetic disease and hormonal disorders can also play a part, but according to the Mayo Clinic, environmental factors are more likely to be the cause of excess weight gain.

What Can We Do?

It really is all about your child's environment. I know we were told to clean out plates as kids, and if you're over 20, you remember your parents or grandparents reminding you that they didn't have what we do when they were kids. Grandma added sugar to everything for a reason, it was rationed during the war. It's a natural reaction to waste not and want not after an experience like that. After all, there are starving kids... wherever they chose to tell you. Which is true. But those reminders have been turned into overeating habits that we as a society, are now passing on to our own children. It is now up to us to change how we think about, and consume food.
Here's how:
  • Improve the habits of your ENTIRE family. Kids are observant. If you hand them apple slices and peanut butter, and then microwave a burrito to eat while watching daytime TV, they are going to notice a double standard. Children are more likely to follow what you DO, and not what you say.
  • Remember, home is not the only influential environment in a child's life. Find out if their school is a safe and supportive environment that provides education on healthy eating, and promotes an active lifestyle. If it doesn't, push for change. It's your child's health, and it's worth the effort.
  • Look into diet guidelines to follow, like the Mayo Clinic Kid's Cookbook and the American Heart Association's Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Children.
  • Share easy to understand information, like the infographic below, to start a conversation with parents and kids alike. Create awareness, and promote change.
Childhood ObesityTo learn more about the obesity problem in America, check out America's Obesity Problem Today and Tomorrow, and visit Advanced Physical Medicine for more diet and health tips for you and your family. 

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