Doctors and scientists are concerned about the rise of obesity in children and youth because obesity may lead to the following health problems:
- Heart disease, caused by:
- high cholesterol and/or
- high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Social discrimination
What We Can do:
- Set a Good Example.
The first step in preventing childhood obesity is for parents and caregivers to make healthy lifestyle choices themselves. Obesity increases the risk for serious medical problems—in children and adults—and healthy decisions can help your family reduce these risks.
- Schedule Regular Wellness Exams for Your Child.
At these checkups, your pediatrician will perform a complete physical examination, answer questions and address concerns about your child’s development, administer immunizations, and monitor your child’s growth—height, weight, and body mass index (BMI)—to make sure it is within a healthy range.
- Make Sure Your Child Gets Enough Rest.
Studies show that children who regularly get fewer than the recommended number of hours of sleep are at higher risk for being overweight. School-aged children usually need about 10 hours of sleep each night—younger children need about 12 hours and adolescents need about 9 hours.
- Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits.
Adequate nutrition provided by a balanced diet is essential to help children grow and develop properly. Encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean sources of protein, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Limit foods that are high in fat, calories, and sugar. Portion control also is important to help prevent obesity.
- Encourage Your Child to be Physically Active Every Day.
It’s recommended that children get at least one hour of activity each day. Good choices include simply playing outside; bicycling or hiking with the whole family; chores like washing the car or raking; and organized activities like dance class, martial arts, and youth sports teams.
- Limit Your Child’s “Screen” Time.
Most experts agree that children spend too much time in front of a screen—such as the television, computer, or video game system. It’s generally recommended that children should spend fewer than 2 hours per day on these activities and that children under two years of age should not watch television.
- Grocery Shop Together.
Teach your child about making healthy decisions and food choices. Involve your child in planning and preparing your family’s meals—even very young children can help wash fruits and vegetables or stir ingredients—and look together for ways to make your child’s favorite meals healthier. Eat together at the table as often as possible.
- Don’t Use Food to Motivate Your Child.
Avoid using food as a reward and withholding food as punishment. Teach your child that most foods can have a place in a healthy diet, but processed foods that are high in fat and/or sugar and low in nutritional value should be eaten sparingly or as an occasional treat.
- Avoid Teasing Your Child about His or Her Weight.
Don’t make comments about your child’s weight—or comment about your own weight issues—in front of your child or ridicule or belittle him or her. Focus on healthy, positive lifestyle changes and make sure your child does not relate his or her self-worth, or the value of other people, to body size.
- Ask Your Doctor about Dietary Supplements.
Talk to your pediatrician, a licensed dietician, or a nutritionist about developing a healthy, well-balanced eating plan for your child. If you have concerns about whether his or her nutritional requirements are being met, ask about multivitamins or other supplements.
- Warn Your Child about the Dangers of Fad Diets.
Make sure older children and teens know the dangers of fasting, using laxatives, and purging to lose weight. Teach adolescents that diet pills and other substances that claim to aid in weight loss—even “natural” products—may be dangerous and shouldn’t be used unless directed by a qualified health care provider.