Obesity in kids has reached epidemic levels. Experts estimate (according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey)"an estimated 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight) and another 15% are at risk of becoming overweight. It is also predicted that two thirds of these overweight kids will become overweight adults. This is why so many health experts talk about the childhood obesity epidemic.
Understanding the causes of childhood obesity can guide parents in creating a healthy lifestyle for their children minimizing their risk of obesity and related diseases. Of course genetics can also play a role in the cause of obesity and although genetics can’t be changed, other risk factors can be managed.
Nutrition: Poor food choices and lack of portion control. Teach your children “right from wrong” even when it come to food selection. Make it educational and fun. Empower them to make their own decisions from a pre-approved list that’s full of choices for meals and snacks.
Exercise: Lack of physical activity, be it through play, individual or team sports. Get your kids engaged at an early age with one of the many children in motion classes in your community and encourage them as they enter elementary school to try different sports to find the best fit. Participating in sports has the added benefit of not only building strong healthy bodies but teaches children the importance of cooperation; the concept of team effort and greatly contributes to their self esteem.
Rest: Sleep is critical to your child’s health and growth. There have been numerous studies that correlate lack of sleep to increased risk of childhood obesity. A minimum of 10 hours of sleep for growing children age 6-12 is recommended and at least 9 hours for teenagers.
How Do You Know Your Child Is Overweight?
The person you need to speak with to help you determine the proper weight for your child’s height, body frame and age is your pediatrician. Your doctor will calculate your child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) which is a formula which will determine if your child is overweight, underweight or within the appropriate weight range.
If the doctor determines that your child’s health requires weight reduction that he/she will work with you and your child to develop a healthy eating and exercise program to accomplish that goal. It is important for parents not to stress the fact that the child needs to diet, rather the child needs participate in a program that will enable him/her to become healthier and feel fit. Children need to feel empowered in the process, therefore getting their buy-in from the start and providing them with many healthy choices to pick from when designing their personal eating plan is very important in achieving their weight loss goals.
Understanding Your Childs Nutritional Needs
Proper nutrition begins at infancy, and at each stage of your child’s growth nutritional requirements will vary so it is very important to be informed of their needs and adapt their diet accordingly. Keeping these guidelines in mind will allow you to create the pathway to a healthy lifestyle for your child that will carry forward into their adulthood. Remember, good habits start young!
There are many decisions to make about feeding you newborn; breastfeeding versus formulas, homemade babyfood versus store bought, when to start baby cereal, when to begin finger food and when and how to encourage self-feeding. Your pediatrician can guide you in making these decisions as you progress through the first year of your baby’s life.
The Toddler Years
Toddlers can be very picky eaters and often only eat 1 full meal a day while they pick at other foods through the day. However, toddlers really only need about 1300 calories a day, so make sure to include 16 ounces of low fat milk, 4-6 ounces of 100%natural juice, 2 healthy snacks (around 200-300 calories) and 2-3 meals consisting of protein and vegetables equaling 700-900 calories. Remember, keeping your child physically active is key to developing a healthy and active lifestyle.
Elementary School Years, Tweens and Teens
Generally the most important thing to remember about your growing child’s diet is to keep it balanced. Balance the food your child eats with physical activity and balance your child’s diet by eating a three meals and 2 nutritious snacks per day limiting high- sugar and high-fat foods, eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, including 3 servings of cheese or yogurt to meet your child's calcium needs.