Childhood obesity is a severe medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It’s particularly troubling because the extra pounds often lead children to health problems that were once considered adult problems — diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
About 1 in 5 American children has obesity. Childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, the number of children and adolescents with obesity has tripled since the 1980s.
Compared to children with healthy weight, children that are overweight or obese are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone, and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children with obesity are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. While there is no simple solution, there are many ways parents and caregivers can help children reach a healthy weight.
One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve your entire family’s eating and exercise habits. Treating and preventing childhood obesity helps protect your child’s health now and in the future and starts at home.
So Where Do You Start
A primary tool for assessing obesity in children (as well as in adolescents and adults) is called the body mass index or BMI. The BMI measures fat content based on a child’s height and weight ratio. In addition to checking the BMI, blood work should be included to measure your child’s overall health.
How Does It Happen
Although there are many theories regarding the root cause of obesity, the general belief is that obesity occurs in individuals that consume more calories than required daily and an excess amount of carbohydrates. Their body then stores these extra calories as fat. Combine this with years of inactivity and a lack of daily exercise. This creates the perfect environment for obesity to occur.
With numerous causes associated with obesity, who is at the highest risk for developing this disease? Although anyone is prone to gaining and losing weight, some individuals have a higher risk of developing obesity due to certain factors. These risk factors include genetics and family lifestyle, as obesity tends to run in families, especially if one or both parents are obese. Other factors include being inactive, eating an unhealthy diet, medical problems, certain medications, social and economic issues, and a lack of quality sleep.
The Significance Of Diet
The first step in strategic weight loss is through intelligent food choices and strategic meal timing. Many of us, especially children, have a natural tendency to become hungry during certain parts of the day. When kids get hungry, they will not make wise choices and eat whatever is handy – especially foods high in carbohydrates such as candy, cookies, and other sugary snacks. Parents need to calculate when they believe their children will be hungry and plan a healthy snack for the time they know hunger will strike.
Kids will almost always choose junk food over vegetables and fruit when given a choice. Why? Because that’s how they’ve been raised. Most kids eat whatever their parents eat, and a significant majority of families today never fix meals at home. Instead, they choose to eat out at fast-food restaurants. Not only is it usually cheaper to eat out, but it is quicker too. But that’s about as far as it goes.
Regarding health, eating out doesn’t come close to preparing and cooking homemade meals. By cooking at home, you control not only the quality of food but also the quantity. When people eat out, they almost always overeat.
So, What Diet Is The Best
Unfortunately, there is no Magic Pill or just one good diet that works
for everyone. The most popular diets out there today are the Mediterranean and Paleo Diets. These diets all have something in common: they eliminate junk food, bad fats, sugar, and excess salt. Just remember that whatever you choose, it’s not just a diet. It has to be a lifestyle you can follow and commit to for life.
It is highly suggested that individuals consume lean protein sources to fuel their fat-burning goals. Foods like chicken breast, fish, lean steak, and eggs are excellent protein sources and help the body recover and operate efficiently. As a great snack on the go, try carrying organic nuts and fruits to keep a healthy diet from wandering astray. If a child yearns for a piece of candy or a cookie, hand them a handful of almonds to overcome the urge.
Eat the Rainbow
A healthy diet can help children get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development and help them reach a healthy weight. A healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Unfortunately, very few kids get enough fruits and vegetables. In 2017, just 2% of high school students ate enough vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Help your kids eat the rainbow: make half their plate fruits and vegetables for optimal health.
Slow Down on Sugar
Most kids eat and drink too many added sugars, leading to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children under age two should have no added sugar in their diet at all, and children over two should keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily calories.
An excellent way to slow down on sugar is by avoiding sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, and flavored milk. Instead, help your kids rethink their drinks by offering water or low-fat milk. Also, don’t keep sugar-laden foods in the house. Then, they won’t be tempted to eat it if it’s not there.
Compared to inactive youth, physically active youth have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular fitness. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones. Regular physical activity in childhood also reduces the risk of depression. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
If someone is in a position where obesity controls their life, they need to dedicate themselves to one small daily activity until it becomes habitual. This can be as simple as walking or riding a bike. Start by going around the block and increasing the distance every week. The point is to perform these routines until they become healthy habits that are simple for the person to do and fun too.
When You Eat Can Be Just As Important As What You Eat
Eating late at night can spell disaster for your child’s weight loss efforts. Eating late doesn’t allow their body time to burn off the calories, and they wind up being stored as fat.
Good sleep is critical to preventing type 2 diabetes, obesity, injuries, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior. Did you know that children 6-12 need 9-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and youth 13-18 need 8-10 hours?
Too little sleep is associated with obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and be less physically active. In addition, lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases the satiety hormone leptin. Lack of sleep also interferes with impulse control, making it less likely that your child will stick to healthy food choices and portion sizes the following day.
Getting less sleep than needed also heightens your child’s cortisol level, a stress hormone. High cortisol levels prompt the body to overeat to refuel after fighting off a stressor.
Help your children sleep better by ensuring they’re active during the day, removing screens from their bedrooms, and setting a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Reduce Screen Time
Adults and children spend over 7 hours a day being sedentary – which doesn’t include time spent sleeping! Many inactive hours are spent sitting or lying down with a phone, tablet, or computer, watching TV, or playing video games.
Too much screen time has health consequences: it’s associated with poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health in youth. On the other hand, when you reduce screen time, you will free up time for family activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media plan icon. It has examples such as keeping mealtimes tech-free, charging devices at night outside the bedroom, turning screens off an hour before bed, and many more.
Kids imitate the adults in their lives. So be a role model for them by adopting these healthy habits, and they will adopt them too! Finally, remember that obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors.
If your kids cannot lose weight, you must first find out why. Then, I recommend following the recommendations above and having a complete blood workup to determine your child’s overall health.
Check out the Weight Loss Panel we offer!
Weight Loss Panel
Includes: CBC, CMP (which includes glucose levels), Lipid Panel, TSH (thyroid), T3 Uptake (showing utilization of thyroid), T4 (thyroid), Free T3 (Thyroid), DHEA, Vitamin B12 & Folate, Vitamin D, Spot Cortisol (AM), Insulin, Ferritin, Magnesium, Hemoglobin A1C, Urinalysis.
To learn more about what you can do to help your child lose excess weight, call Doctor’s Nutrition today at 228-897-0070.