Childhood Obesity

Sandy Tschosik, RN
St. Alexius’ Community Health Services Coordinator

Childhood ObesityObesity has become a serious medical condition affecting children, adolescents and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years and today, nearly one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

The ratio of weight to height is called body mass index (BMI). This is a screening tool that is used to see if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Since children are still growing, when determining their BMI, age and gender must also be taken into consideration. Thus growth charts are helpful in calculating child and adolescent BMI. Children and adolescents with a BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile are considered to be at a healthy weight. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 94th percentile are considered to be overweight, and those with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese.

Although genetics and hormonal disorders can contribute to childhood obesity, most of the time obesity is caused by poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Times have changed. Children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time inside engaged in sedentary activities.  According to the CDC, on average, children eight to 18 years old are spending 7.5 hours a day on the computer, cell phone, playing video games, watching TV or DVDs. 83 percent of children six months to less than six years of age watch TV or videos about two hours a day. 

Today dual income families are busier than ever, eating fewer home-cooked meals and resorting to dining out. As a result we are consuming larger portions and often more calories than we need. Children also are snacking more in between meals, and unfortunately these snacks are not always nutritious. 

Children who are overweight or obese can suffer immediate as well as long-term health effects. They are often teased or bullied, suffer from low self esteem or depression and may have behavior and learning problems. They may also develop asthma or breathing problems, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems and are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

So what can we do about this national obesity epidemic? Below are some healthy tips for parents and guardians:

  • Limit convenience foods like cookies, chips and fast food.  They are high in sugar, sodium and fat.
  • Offer healthy meals and snacks, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products, whole grain breads and cereals and lean sources of protein.
  • Control portion sizes.
  • Quench thirst with water instead of sports drinks, juice or soda. 
  • Involve your children in grocery shopping, meal planning and meal preparation. Eat together as a family and discourage your child from eating in front of the TV, which often makes people eat more.
  • Use stickers as a reward instead of sweets.
  • Cut back on dining out or order healthy options.
  • Encourage your children to be active! Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Get them involved in team sports, and make a family commitment to limit TV, video games and computer time to fewer than two hours a day.
  • Get active as a family. Walk or bike together in the evenings, go on a nature hike, play catch or basketball, go bowling, challenge them to a jump rope competition or take your children swimming. Make it fun!

Fred Schafer, certified fitness trainer, author and motivational speaker, simply stated, “Couch potatoes breed tater tots.” As parents we need to set a good example and be healthy role models for our children. If we eat right and are physically active, we can help our children develop these healthy habits. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, please talk to his or her health care provider.