Wise choices can prevent childhood obesity

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and is important to think about this growing and devastating health issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years — frightening statistics, especially when we consider that in 2012 more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese is a result of consuming more calories than are required for growth, maintenance and movement. It is influenced by genetic, behavioral and environmental factors.

The CDC notes that some of the immediate effects of childhood obesity are an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes. Obese children and adolescents run a greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social stigmatization leading to poor self-esteem.

More long-term health effects are that obese children are likely to be obese adults, and therefore more prone to adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and osteoarthritis. The cancers that are more prevalent in those who are overweight, according to the CDC, are cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The CDC notes that as with most health issues, prevention is far more beneficial than any cure. Developing healthy lifestyle habits including healthy eating and daily physical activity can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing the related diseases. The dietary and exercise behaviors of children are profoundly influenced by their families, their communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, churches, government agencies, the media and entertainment industry, as well as the food and beverage industry.

Schools can be especially influential by providing a safe and supportive environment that encourages healthy behaviors and opportunities to learn about and engage in healthy eating and physical activity.

The Mayo clinic recommends proactive measures aimed at reducing the risk of your children becoming overweight, or help get their weight back on track. Children should have annual medical check-ups to ensure their weight is appropriate. As responsible parents, your weight should be appropriate and you should set a good example by exercising and eating healthily. Don’t use food as a reward or as a punishment.

Emphasize the positive by having active fun, and having a variety of fresh wholesome foods on hand rather than commercially prepared junk food.

Avoid focusing on your child’s weight and making it an issue. Sometimes children grow into their extra weight as they get taller, so be patient and assist them in becoming healthier and developing the habits that will support that goal.

Many children and adults tend to gain weight during the holidays and over special occasions. Preparing the family to stay on track throughout vacations with their exercise and healthy eating agenda is sensible and proactive. In many families, special occasions are synonymous with special food and overeating. While it is fine to celebrate a special day such as birthdays or other special days here and there with special treats, the celebration should not extend for weeks. Grandparents, aunts and uncles can be overindulgent with treats, not just at special times, and they should be invited to support your desire toward achieving better health and be asked to be part of the family’s lifestyle journey.

We have a national health crisis and only we can turn it around by choosing wisely for ourselves and our families!

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Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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