Tackling Childhood Obesity
Nearly one out of three children in the United States is overweight or obese. This doesn’t come as a surprise; we live in an era where we are rushing from one thing to the next. We reach for something quick and easy to eat in-between errands with little thought about nutrition. We sit in front of screens for hours each day for both work and entertainment. And if we’re being honest, many of us don’t get the exercise we should. As adults we’re in control of our choices and understand there may be negative effects from them. Our children on the other hand, mirror our behavior and don’t fully understand how choices can impact their health and well-being.
In primary care pediatrics, there is a large focus on preventative medicine—that is discussing ways to stay healthy to avoid medical complications before they happen. We vaccinate against future infections, talk about ways to stay safe in our everyday lives, and track our children’s progress with developmental milestones and school performance. The true importance and potential rewards of preventative medicine are no more easily apparent than when applied against one of the fastest growing issues in Pediatrics, that of childhood obesity.
According to recent data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), childhood obesity continues to grow in prevalence, with rates increasing since 1998 in both girls, 14.6% to 17.8% and boys from 14.7% to 19.1%. As a pediatrician I see the negative effects of childhood obesity first hand—medical complications such as sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, as well as very real risk factors for heart and liver disease. Not only that, I see how obesity can cause children to have depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It’s a tough issue to address due to the understandable emotional concerns. However, it’s important, because together we can work to prevent the negative health conditions associated with being overweight as a child.
In my practice, I work to empower my patients and their families to identify achievable goals to make long-lasting change to their diet and lifestyles. When my patients meet their goals, it only strengthens their desire to make more changes towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle for their future.
Simple changes can make an impact on your child’s growth. When it comes to nutrition, swap out sugary beverages for water. If you find that your little ones struggle with drinking their water, infuse it with fruit for added flavor. Be mindful of portion sizes and second helpings. And when it comes to snacking, try offering healthier options such as whole fruit, cheese sticks, whole wheat crackers, and veggies and healthy dips. Plan ahead. With our busy schedules it can be hard to resist the ease of going to a drive-thru, but by planning your week you can identify where you have to pack a snack or meal. Keep in mind that if you have less temptation in your fridge and pantry, it makes it easier to make healthier choices.
Physical activity is important. Try to get your kids moving every day. The AAP recommends that children and adolescents engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Consider enrolling them in an organized sport or having them tag along on an outdoor walk before dinner. It doesn’t need to be complicated to work, it just has to happen. And when it comes screen time such as TV, tablets, video games, and more – recommendations vary. There can be some benefits, including education, so it’s important to establish media and screen time guidelines within your home. A good, healthy rule is to limit 2 hours of screen use for entertainment.
It is extremely important to remember that ultimately, for ourselves and our children, we should be focused on living a healthy lifestyle and preventing future medical complications. Children are already too familiar with our culture’s misdirected obsession regarding weight. We must remind them that ultimately confidence, and being a good and respectable person comes from who we are on the inside. Making smart lifestyle choices for ourselves, and knowing we have the independence and ability to do so, can be a great aid in this cause. I am optimistic that through my work at Sturdy Pediatric Associates, and that of a growing number of Primary Care Pediatricians, nutritionists, therapists and trainers, we can work together to prevent the many medical challenges faced by childhood obesity.