We can beat around the bush, but facts are facts – Americans are overweight and getting heavier every year.
The U.S. leads the developed world in adult obesity rates. Currently, 68 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and 34 percent of the population is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Our children are not spared the expanding waistline, either. According to the New York Times, the US. holds “the dubious honor of fattest population of children, tied with Scotland.”
In Richmond County, more than 17 percent of children between the ages of two to four and 18 percent of ages five to 11 are considered overweight. More than 15 percent of children two to four years old are considered obese, a number that rises to almost 26 percent in ages five to 11 and 29 percent in ages 12 to 18, according to the North Carolina-NCPASS report. Children 11 and 12 have the highest obesity rate – more than 33 percent, while 2-year-olds have the lowest rate at 13 percent. Thirty percent of county adults are considered obese.
Numerous studies show that a high percentage of obese children grow up to be obese adults and that a moderate weight issue as a child can cause lifeline health problems. Childhood obesity is putting today’s youth on a course to potentially be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. The Journal of the American Medical Association says that obese children are almost six times more likely than children with healthy weights to have an impaired quality of life – equal to that of children undergoing treatment for cancer.
Studies have also found that an obese person’s life expectancy is cut short anywhere between 8 and 10 years when compared to a person with a more normal weight. Obese and overweight populations are at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as stroke and cancer.
Donna Ryan, president of the Obesity Society, a group of weight-management researchers and professionals, says it’s crucial to address the problem early. “If you can get kids into healthier eating habits when they are younger, their weight may self-correct.” But once they become obese adults, it’s difficult to reverse, she says.
Pediatricians are now treating a lot of conditions they didn’t use to treat because those conditions were prevalent only in older people. They’re now treating children for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In addition, obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood. No parent wants that for his child.
Parents struggle to provide a healthy lifestyle for their child, and it can be truly difficult. According to the experts at WebMD, one step to ensure the health of your child is creating a nutritional home where you use consistency, smart food choices, patience and reinforcement of good eating habits.
Designed to combat the “widespread belief” that childhood obesity doesn’t kick in until kindergarten, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) lays out recommendations to help keep kids fit from birth to age 5. More sleep, more play time, less formula and less television top the list of ways to keep the baby fat at bay.
It’s interesting that we learn to eat too much as we grow older. Babies know when they have eaten enough, turning their head away from the bottle. But as children age, they forget to listen to their bodies telling them they’ve eaten enough. And we, their parents, too often encourage that forgetfulness.
If we give children the opportunity to stop eating when they feel full, they’ll learn to keep a healthy weight. The “clean plate club” is an outdated idea; children should stop eating when full, rather than when the plate is clean. Doctors and nutritionists say it’s OK for children to not want a full meal occasionally; they’ll eat when they are hungry.
Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to encouraging healthy eating for your children.
• Reward your child with attention and kind words, not food. Show your love with hugs and kisses. Console with hugs and talks.
• Giving your child sweets when they feel sad or as a special treat can teach your child to eat when he or she is not hungry. This may cause your child to ignore body signals of fullness and overeat.
• Rewarding with sweets also lets your child think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods. For example, telling your child “no dessert until you finish your vegetables” may make them like the vegetable less and the dessert more.
• Patience works better than pressure. Offer your children a variety of foods, then let them choose how much to eat.
• Try not to restrict specific foods. When a restricted food becomes available, your child might eat it despite feeling full. This can lead to a habit of overeating. Also, don’t restrict sweets or other treats as punishment for bad behavior.
• Kids learn from watching their parents. If you eat fruits and veggies, they will, too.
• Show your child how to make healthy choices when you are on the run. Put fruits in your bag for quick snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
• Share the adventure. Be willing to try new foods together.
• Cook together. Encourage your preschooler to help you prepare meals and snacks. Teach your child to tear lettuce or add veggie toppings to pizza. Cooking together can mean more mommy or daddy and me time on busy days.
• Keep things positive. Discourage older children and other family members from making yucky faces or negative comments about unfamiliar foods.
• Set a good example for physical activity, too. Make play time a family time. Walk, run and play with your child rather than sitting on the sidelines.
(Richmond County Partnership for Children is a non-profit organization that provides programs to enhance the health, education and quality of life for children birth to age 5 and their families. For more information on Partnership programs, call 910.997.3773 or visit www.richmondsmartstart.org.)
This is the first in a three-part series about preventing obesity in children.
Martha Vance Brown, Executive Director, Richmond County Partnership for Children, can be reached at (910) 997-3773 ext. 24, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.