Obesity is defined as having excess body fat, and has become a serious public health issue for children, adolescents, and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 97 million people in the U.S. are obese or overweight. Over the last 20 years, the prevalence of obese children has doubled, and that of adolescents has tripled, according to the centers. This accounts for approximately 11 million children and adolescents. So what does this mean for you and your family?
In children and adolescents, obesity significantly increases the risks of health problems that continue into adulthood, particularly high cholesterol and triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. In addition, it also increases risks of other chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, gallstones, asthma, skin conditions, orthopedic problems, menstrual disorders in adolescent girls and women, and an increased risk of certain types of cancer — such as breast, uterine, and colon.
How do you know if you or someone in your family is overweight or obese?
Obesity is assessed by calculating the body mass index from a person’s height and weight. An adult with a body mass of 30 or greater is obese. For children 2 years of age and older, as well as for adolescents, the number can also be calculated from the child’s height and weight, and plotted on the center’s mass index-for-age growth chart to obtain a percentile ranking (mass index charts for children and adolescents are age and sex-specific). Children and adolescents with a body mass between 85-95 percentiles are overweight, and those with a body mass greater than the 95 percentile are obese.
What can you do to prevent obesity for yourself and your family?
Although these risks are real and serious, there are some very simple lifestyle changes that can get you and your family on the way to improving your overall future health. Most experts agree that the road to success begins with developing healthier eating habits, such as:
• Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods
• Eating fewer foods that are high in sugar and fat
• Eating leaner meats, poultry, and fish
• Eating more lentils and beans
• Drinking more water and limiting sugar-sweetened drinks and soft-drinks
• Drinking low-fat or non-fat milk and other dairy products
• Encouraging breast feeding in infants
Talk to your primary healthcare provider about a referral to a nutritionist for nutritional counseling and education, from which you and your family can learn about portion control for servings and how to read nutrition labels.
Try to promote increased physical activity in your family by making it a group activity. It’s recommended that children and adolescents participate in some form of moderate physical activity for about one hour a day, such as brisk walks, jumping rope, playing tag, swimming, playing soccer or basketball, dancing, and much more. Your child doesn’t have to participate in team sports — she just needs to have fun and be active.
And beware of the sedentary lifestyle: too much time watching TV or going online promotes inactivity and frequent unhealthy snacking. Reduce the time children spend on sedentary activities by limiting the time they spend watching television, playing video games, and computer time to less than two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not have televisions in their rooms, and children less than 2 years of age not watch television at all.
Lastly, keep informed. There are a variety of resources available for obtaining information about your child’s health and maintaining healthy lifestyles:
• www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• www.aap.gov (The American Academy of Pediatrics)
• http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/home/home.shtml (New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene)
Prevention of serious chronic adult diseases is within your power, if you have the right tools.