The obesity epidemic continues to dominate headlines—and for good reason. Obesity is a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Many of these conditions occur in adults but often begin in childhood. Knowing the facts and taking steps to help your children live a healthier lifestyle may prevent childhood obesity and its resulting complications.
The Facts of Obesity
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 1 in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Why have we seen such a dramatic increase? Although genetics play a role and obesity runs in families, our genetics did not change in the last 30 years. What has changed is our diet and other environmental factors. The bottom line is many of us eat too much, especially sugar and processed foods, plus we are not as active as we should be. The CDC recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. But in our increasingly sedentary world, children are more likely to be found playing on an iPad than on a baseball field.
Signs and Symptoms of Obesity
Due to the many health issues associated with obesity, it’s important that parents recognize both the immediate and long-term effects.
Immediate Health Effects:
- Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high triglycerides or high blood pressure
- Indicators of pre-diabetes, a condition that signals insulin resistance and a high risk for development of diabetes
- Fatty liver, which can perpetuate insulin resistance and is associated with metabolic syndrome
- Social and psychological problems such as bullying and poor self-esteem
Long-Term Health Effects:
- Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis
- Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including 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
Tips to Prevent Obesity
The good news is that a few minor lifestyle changes can help reduce the incidence of childhood obesity and improve overall health outcomes. But parents need to be mindful of what their children are eating and ensure they are getting enough physical activity. Parents should aim to:
- Avoid beverages with sugar and high fructose corn syrup (sodas and juices)
- Learn to read labels
- Decrease consumption of hidden sugars and processed foods
- Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables
- Limit screen time
- Encourage exercise
- Provide options for counseling if needed
RELATED: Find nutritionists near you