Childhood Obesity & Diabetes -- June 9, 2008 -- Dr. Leah Higginbotham - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Childhood Obesity & Diabetes -- June 9, 2008 -- Dr. Leah Higginbotham


Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

Why should we care about managing our families' weight? There has been a lot of talk lately about how much heavier Americans have been growing since the 1970s. Today, approximately 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese with sixty-one million adult Americans considered obese.

Children are becoming heavier as well. The percentage of children and teens who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Today, about 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight.

Extra pounds can add up to health problems, often for life. In adults, overweight and obesity are linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions.

For children, overweight also increases health risks. Type 2 diabetes was once rare in American children-now it accounts for 8 to 45 percent of newly-diagnosed diabetes cases in children and adolescents. Overweight children are also more likely to become overweight or obese as adults.


What is overweight?

Body mass index (BMI) is a practical measure used to determine overweight. BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height that is used to determine weight status. BMI is the most widely accepted method used to screen for overweight in children and adolescents because it is relatively easy to obtain the height and weight measurements needed to calculate BMI. For children ages 2 and older, and for teens, BMI uses weight and height, and adds sex and age into the calculation. Instead of using a specific number like adults do, the BMI for children and teens listed as a percent. This percent indicates a child's BMI in relation to the BMIs of other children the same sex and age.

You can use the Child and Teen BMI Calculator to figure out your child's BMI.

Children ages two and older are considered:

  • * At a healthy weight if their BMI falls between the 5th and the 85th percentiles.
  • * At risk for being overweight if their BMI is in the 85th to 95th percentile.
  • * Overweight or obese if their BMI is at or higher than the 95th percentile.


How can you help?

  • Tell your child that he or she is loved, special, and important. Children's feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents feel about them.
  • Accept your child at any weight. Children are more likely to accept and feel good about themselves when their parents accept them.
  • Listen to your child's concerns about his or her weight. Overweight children probably know better than anyone else that they have a weight problem. They need support, understanding and encouragement from parents.


Encourage healthy eating habits

  • Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned or dried). Let your child choose them at the store.
  • Buy fewer soft drinks and high-fat or high-calorie snack foods like chips, cookies and candy. These snacks may be OK once in a while, but always keep healthy snack foods on hand. Offer the healthy snacks more often at snack times.
  • Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. Breakfast may provide your child with the energy he or she needs to listen and learn in school. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
  • Eat fast food less often. When you do visit a fast food restaurant, encourage your family to choose the healthier options, such as salads with low-fat dressing or small sandwiches without cheese or mayonnaise.
  • Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Low-fat milk and milk products are important for your child's development. One hundred percent fruit juice is a healthy choice but is high in calories.
  • Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in your family's diet. Instead, obtain most of your fats from sources such as fish, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
  • Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
  • Do not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it.
  • Try not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they think are less valuable.
  • Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is up to you to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat.
  • Be aware that some high-fat or high-sugar foods and beverages may be strongly marketed to kids. Usually these products are associated with cartoon characters, offer free toys, and come in bright packages. Talk with your child about the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods-even if these foods are not often advertised on TV or in stores.

Encourage Daily Activity

Like adults, kids need daily physical activity. Here are some ways to help your child move every day:

  • Set a good example. If your child sees that you are physically active and that you have fun doing it, he or she is more likely to be active throughout life.
  • Encourage your child to join a sports team or class, such as soccer, dance, basketball or gymnastics at school or at your local community or recreation center.
  • Be sensitive to your child's needs. If your child feels uncomfortable participating in activities like sports, help him or her find physical activities that are fun and not embarrassing, such as playing tag with friends or siblings, jumping rope or dancing to his or her favorite music.
  • Be active together as a family. Assign active chores such as making the beds, washing the car, or vacuuming. Plan active outings such as a trip to the zoo, a family bike ride, or a walk through a local park.

A pre-adolescent child's body is not ready for adult-style physical activity. Do not encourage your child to participate in activities such as long jogs, using an exercise bike or treadmill, or lifting heavy weights. FUN physical activities that kids choose to do on their own are often best.

Kids need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but this does not have to happen all at once. Several short 10- or even five-minute periods of activity throughout the day are just as good. If your children are not used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day.

Weight-Control Program

You may want to think about a treatment program if:

  • You have changed your family's eating and physical activity habits and your child has not reached a healthy weight.
  • Your health care provider has told you that your child's health or emotional well-being is at risk because of his or her weight.

The overall goal of a treatment program should be to help your whole family adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits that you can keep up for the rest of your lives. Here are some other things a weight-control program should do:

  • Include a variety of health care professionals on staff, including doctors, registered dietitians, psychiatrists or psychologists, and exercise physiologists.
  • Evaluate your child's weight, growth, and health before enrolling him or her in the program. The program should also monitor these factors while your child is enrolled.
  • Adapt to the specific age and abilities of your child. Programs for 4-year-olds should be different from those for 12-year-olds.
  • Help your family keep up healthy eating and physical activity behaviors after the program ends.


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