Obesity among children is a major crisis in America today. Let's find out what are the key causes and remedial measures that can help reverse the trend?
The current pediatric population might be the first generation who will not exceed the lifespan of their parents if something isn’t quickly done to clamp down on childhood obesity, according to the CDC.
July 28th to August 3rd is National Childhood Obesity week in America. It’s important that we understand obesity, its causes, consequences, and how we can address it. Childhood obesity must be treated while kids are still young since 20% of obese four-year-olds will grow up to be obese, and 80% of obese teens will continue being obese.
The causes of obesity are multifactorial. Some of the top reasons is consuming excessive calories relative to the calories burnt. This often occurs when eating food of poor quality, along with loads of sugar and lots of fat, along with overeating “healthy” foods. Other reasons include limited physical play, excess electronic exposure, insufficient daily sleep, and chronic stress.
Obesity Facts And Figures
In the US, obesity has increased significantly in the past thirty years. Currently, 1 out of 3 persons are overweight to obese. In the 1970s and 1980s, only 5% of children were obese. In 2000, 13% of children were obese, while now it stands at 18%.
A Word On Breastfeeding
What and how we feed babies in their first 12 months has a huge impact on their health and behavior towards food for the rest of their lives. Breastmilk is the best food for a baby and contains everything they need for their first six months.
Since not all mothers can breastfeed their babies, it is important to be mindful of your baby’s natural feeding cues when bottle-feeding with either formula or extracted breast milk. Babies will behave a certain way to show you when they are hungry and when they are full. Respect their signals and don’t prompt them to keep feeding.
If you frequently tell them to finish their bottle or feed your baby every time they are irritable, it will teach them to ignore their natural fullness signals and lead to a lifetime of overeating and ultimately obesity.
Risk Factors Of Child Obesity
Certain factors increase the risk of children becoming obese. These include behaviors at home as well as societal trends:
- If one parent is obese, the likelihood of the child becoming obese is three times higher.
- If two parents are obese, the risk increases to ten times greater. Children with psychological issues tend to overeat to deal with emotional stress.
- Schools tend to have less physical activities, and kids are more exposed to watching TV and playing computer games than before. Also if parents tend to be inactive, they have a tendency to not value daily physical activity for their children.
- Consuming fast foods, processed and pre-packaged ready-made food, sugary drinks, fruit juice, and candy has become the daily norm.
- Insufficient daily sleep. If parents have a tendency to not value sufficient sleep for themselves, it is challenging for them to instill these values in their children.
Consequences Of Obesity
Being obese can have many physical and psychological consequences. Some of them are:
- Developing type 2 diabetes.
- Menstrual irregularity and infertility.
- Increased risk of hypertension, heart attacks, and stroke.
- Pulmonary issues like asthma and sleep apnea.
- Developing metabolic issues such as liver disease, gallstones, and GERD. Developing orthopedic issues like hip instability.
- Having lower self-esteem due to teasing and bullying at school, as well as the constant bombardment of the ideal body promoted by the media.
- Depression and anxiety from low self-esteem can lead to even further eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.
- Premature death.
How To Treat And Avoid Obesity
There’s no quick or easy fix to treat obesity. Changing nutritional and lifestyle choices can reverse metabolic imbalances in the body over time. Making these changes is a lifetime commitment.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help children avoid becoming obese and to treat obesity:
- Breastfeed if possible, and be mindful of your child’s fullness cues. Carefully select healthy foods for breakfast and school lunch. Include more fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed and pre-packaged ready-made foods, baked goods, sugar-laden items, granola and protein bars, chips, fruit juice and sweet drinks.
- Teach kids how to eat smart so they can make better choices when you’re not around.
- Kids eat what’s available. Keep a bowl of fruit at home and encourage healthy fresh food choices like veggies, beans, seeds, and whole grains with limited wheat.
- Avoid junk food and processed foods. Try to make healthy food choices when eating out and limit portions. For example, have a sandwich without the fries, milkshake, fruit juice, or soda. Portion sizes given at restaurants are often enormous so don’t overeat or force your child to eat everything on the plate.
- Avoid saturated fats and oils. Replace them with healthy fats like olive and coconut oil.
- Don’t label food as good or bad. Rather encourage positive connotations to healthy food, like telling them that vegetables make their hair shiny, or whole grains make them strong.
- Eat meals together as a family at the table. Not only will you have an input in their food choices and portions, but it will help your family to bond.
- Never use food as a reward. Rather reward them with fun activities and spending time together, like reading a bedtime story.
- Encourage outdoor play, like riding a bike or spending time in the park. Limit the time they’re allowed to watch TV, play computer games, and spend on social networks to less than one hour per day.
- Avoid electronic exposure completely in children less than 5 years old. Do fun activities together over the weekends like hiking and playing ball.
The best way to treat obesity in children is by being an example – help your kids make better lifestyle and food choices by adapting a healthy lifestyle yourself.