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What You Should Know About Childhood Obesity

What You Should Know About Childhood Obesity

What parents need to know about childhood obesity, as well as how to prevent it in kids.

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

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Alan Kadish, M.D.

Author: Alan Kadish, M.D., is President of the Touro College & University System. A graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, Dr. Kadish received postdoctoral training at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and at the University of Pennsylvania. He is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease. Under his tenure, Touro has become a national leader in the education of health care professionals. See More

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