Healthbeat: When should parents start watching their child's weight?
Updated: August 8, 2012 3:03PM
According to the Office of the Surgeon General, there are more than 12.5 million children and adolescents -- 17.1 percent of people ages 2 to 19 years -- that are overweight in America. As they grow older, overweight children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Anthony Lin, a family medicine physician on staff at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, echoes this noting that, "In recent years, I've definitely seen a rise in the number of children who are overweight or obese in my practice. Sadly, it mirrors the trend that is occurring everywhere. Where the overweight child previously was the exception, it is now fairly commonplace."
So, when should parents start watching their child's weight? Lin notes a child's weight is addressed at every well child visit, so your physician can identify a weight concern and address it at a very early age, often preschool or kindergarten age and in some cases even earlier. If parents have concerns, Lin recommends they do start by consulting with their physician, who can offer the perspective of an objective third party and address both the parents and the child's questions and concerns.
There is a great deal that families can do to promote healthy active living and support each other in staying healthy.
"The fact is, despite all that children have access to today -- computers and smartphones and reality TV -- parents are still the single biggest influence in a child's life," says Lin. "Young children can only eat what is put in front of them, so if parents are eating healthy most often their children will follow suit."
"The problem is that, unfortunately, it is common for weight issues to also be seen in the parents of overweight children, so the implementation of healthy eating and exercise practices really needs to be an entire family project," notes Lin.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the scientific community agrees that each one of the following can positively impact obesity in children and/or adolescents:
* Eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day
* Get 1 hour of physical activity a day
* Limit screen time to less than 2 hours a day
* Limit consumption of sugar sweetened beverages
* Eat breakfast daily
* Switch to low-fat dairy products
* Regularly eat family meals together
* Limit fast food, take out, and eating out
* Prepare foods at home as a family
* Eat a diet rich in calcium
* Eat a high fiber diet
Lin recognizes there are many factors that lead to childhood obesity, including socioeconomic, cultural and genetic factors. However, regardless of these factors, teaching kids the importance of eating well and being physically active at a young age is crucial to reversing the trend of obesity in this country.
The good news is that Americans today are more aware of the childhood obesity issue and they are starting to be addressed in some significant ways. Lin cites the examples of "offering healthy eating options in the school cafeterias, eliminating some of the refined sugars and hydrogenated oils and adding more whole grain foods. Every step we take to promote a healthier lifestyle for our children, is a step in the right direction."
Chris Doucet wrote this column for Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare
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