As we begin to enter the school year with some students studying from home it is important to maintain a focus on the health of our children.
We should not lose sight of the fact that about 1 in 5 (19%) children in the United States suffers from obesity. In Florida, one out of three children is overweight or obese. Certain groups of children are more affected than others.
We are just ending a particular focus on children through National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month which provides an opportunity for all of us to learn more about this serious health condition. Although this major health problem has no simple solution, there are many ways communities can support children with their journey to good health.
Obesity in childhood poses immediate and future health risks including:
- Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes. They also have more risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their normal weight peers.
- Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers. They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.
- Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. (65% of adults in Florida are at an unhealthy weight according to the Healthiest Weight Florida coalition) This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems. Adult obesity is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.
Many factors influence childhood obesity
Impacts on childhood obesity can occur due to numerous factors including eating and physical activity behaviors, genetics, metabolism, family and home environment, and community and social factors. For some children and families, obesity may be influenced by the following:
- too much time spent being inactive
- lack of sleep
- lack of places to go in the community to get physical activity
- easy access to inexpensive, high calorie foods and sugary beverages
- lack of access to affordable, healthier foods
Developing healthy eating habits
Parents, guardians, and teachers can help children maintain a healthy weight by helping them develop healthy eating habits and limiting calorie-rich temptations. You also want to help children be physically active, have reduced screen time, and get adequate sleep.
To help children develop healthy eating habits:
- Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
- Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
- Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
- Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
- Limit sugary drinks.
- Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.
Team approach to support healthy growth and prevent obesity in children
Many actors need to be involved in working in a complementary manner to address the issue of promoting the healthy growth of children and preventing obesity. These may include:
- parents and caregivers
- state and local health departments, businesses and community groups
- health care providers
- early care and education centers (including pre-school and day care centers)
The goal for children who are overweight is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.
Remember that small changes every day can lead to longer-term success.
Obviously we should be cognizant of additional barriers impacting the ability to address this issue.
Our society has a definite need to look at the many inequities that presently exist which include lack of educational opportunities (including education on nutrition and health topics), limited income, lack of access to affordable healthier foods, difficulty in access to health care (i.e., health disparities, particularly with relation to minority population groups).
Finally, the issue of racial inequalities should not be discounted.
Learn how obesity is measured in children by visiting
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 34 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Journey to health begins with awareness of childhood obesity | Mahoney