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Childhood Obesity: Healthy Living and Fitness Begin at Home

What is considered childhood obesity? It is not merely being a couple of pounds overweight. Childhood obesity refers to a child (who is under 18 years of age) who weighs significantly more than the normal standards for their height and age. A person's weight can fluctuate on a daily basis yet these children remain obese even with slight fluctuations. Many health problems, both mental and physical, can arise due to the excess weight. The child may become depressed and suffer from low self-esteem. The extra weight can also lead to health problems that used to be considered mainly adult problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Sometimes there are obvious factors that can contribute to childhood obesity such as constantly playing video games that do not require moving or excessive TV watching. The amount of exercise a child gets per day is very important in helping to maintain a healthy weight. Diet is another significant factor. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables instead of foods such as chips and candy (junk food) will help with their weight. Yet there are also other factors that contribute to excessive weight gain such as genetics. Have you ever wondered why two people who live similar lifestyles regarding exercise and diet can have very different weight struggles? It seems that some people are able to eat any kind of food they want and barely move but not gain weight. These people may even have problems gaining weight. Other people exercise every day and eat healthy food but still gain weight. Genetics can have a significant influence on a person's weight. One study even suggests that 75 percent of children whose parents are both considered obese will be overweight. If only one parent is obese the chance percentage decreases to 25 to 50 percent. Parental behavior and the home environment can also have a huge impact on a child's weight. Providing lots of food for your children in your home that is high in sugar, calories and/or fat can have a very negative effect on the weight of your kids. If the “unhealthy” food is readily available to them and the healthier foods are not, your children will certainly partake of the unhealthy foods. Also if you are a person who eats when they are bored or stressed or depressed, your children will be more likely to do the same.

  • Childhood Obesity: The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services article discusses childhood obesity and the various factors that can contribute to it.
  • Risk Factors: The Mayo Clinic website discusses the contributing risk factors for childhood obesity as well as other topic-related subjects such as prevention.
  • What are Risk Factors for Childhood Obesity?: The website discusses risk factors for childhood obesity such as genetics and social factors.

Dangers Associated with Childhood Obesity

Why is being obese considered so harmful for children? There are many possible negative consequences of childhood obesity. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise and it is a chronic condition which affects how sugar is metabolized in the body. An unhealthy diet can be a contributing factor to type 2 diabetes. It is certainly not something you want your child to have to deal with. Luckily the condition can typically be reversed by consuming a healthier diet and exercising. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can result from obesity. These things can lead to a stroke or heart attack in later years. Breathing problems or asthma can stem from a child's excessive weight when it interferes with lung development or health. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can affect children who are obese. Even puberty can be affected by obesity. Hormone imbalances can result which may cause a child to begin puberty earlier than what is considered normal.

There are also emotional and social problems associated with childhood obesity. Children who are obese are often victims of teasing and bullying in school. These problems can lead to depression and low self-esteem for the child. Sometimes obese children are more anxious and lack good social skills. In extreme cases the child may disrupt classes in school and act out. Other times the child may withdraw socially. The anxiety and the stress related to their weight problem may even cause the child to have learning difficulties.

The Importance of Balanced Nutrition in Children

Good nutrition is essential to a healthy child. Your child's body requires certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients in order to function properly. They can get these essential items by making smart food and beverage choices. These healthy choices can benefit them in many ways. They can lead to not only a healthy weight but also to enhanced physical performance and optimal intellectual development and growth. These healthy choices can also decrease the risk of diseases that are related to nutrition such as type 2 diabetes. Nutritional needs vary according to many factors such as age and height. For instance, an infant, a teenager and an elderly person will all have different diet and nutritional needs. Your current health and your level of activity can also affect your nutritional needs. Yet the USDA has determined a set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans ages two and over. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize the selection of foods from all the food groups.

  • Nutrition Basics: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website explains how the basic food groups, water, dietary fats, carbohydrates, protein and vitamins and minerals are all considered important parts of good nutrition.
  • Child Nutrition (PDF): The PDF focuses on nutrition for preschool-age children.
  • Diet and Nutrition: The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development website answers important questions about diet and nutrition such as “How is obesity related to nutrition and diet?”
  • Dietary Guidelines: The Choose My Plate website explains what a healthy diet is and how MyPlate helps people to use their Dietary Guidelines.

Addressing Exercise With Your Child

Kids need exercise. They are less likely to become overweight if they exercise on a regular basis. Merely playing with friends can include exercise. When kids play tag or kickball or even hopscotch they are exercising. Children need to know how important exercise is for them and for everyone. Exercise will make their bones and muscles stronger and their bodies leaner (which helps to control body fat). Kids will be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they exercise regularly. Exercise helps them to have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Exercise can even help your child to have a more positive outlook on life. Kids who are in good physical condition tend to sleep better and can handle emotional and physical challenges better. Teens and younger kids need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Preschoolers and toddlers need even more exercise.

  • The Many Benefits of Exercise: The KidsHealth website explains the benefits of exercise, elements of fitness, the sedentary problem, how much exercise is enough and raising fit kids.
  • Kids & Exercise: The Nutrition website discusses important information regarding kids and exercise such as how exercise burns fat.
  • Physical Activity: The website offers a physical activity pyramid and a calorie burning chart.
  • Young People & Exercise: The website discusses why kids need to exercise.

How to Make Exercising Fun-Get the Whole Family Involved

Exercise can be fun and can bring your family closer together. Playing with your kids is easy. You don't have to run laps or lift weights in order to get exercise. You can play tag or jump rope. How about playing video games that require you to be active? This activity has you sharing something the kids love to do but requires exercise at the same time. The park is a great place to play together. Swing on swings, climb structures and slide down slides. Baseball diamonds can be used for playing baseball, softball or kickball. You can create an obstacle course in your own back yard if you have one. Just pick several things such as trees that must be touched in a certain order and race from one to the next. Household chores need to be done so why not make them fun? Dust away the creatures invading the Earth. Outdoor yard work and gardening is also good exercise that can be fun. Work together to create a beautiful garden or rake leaves in the fall into a pile to jump in or slide into. Family walks or bike rides are also an excellent way to spend time together. A healthy diet and exercise leads to good health for everyone and helps us all to live longer, happier lives.