Many children today are moving too little or eating too much Page ContentAccording to Richard Byrd, Chief of Pediatrics at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, there are serious health consequences. “People in their 20s and 30s will likely develop the diseases we associate with middle and old age,” he said. “I’m already seeing kids with high insulin levels, indicating that they are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if they don’t get their weight down.”Dr. Byrd and his colleagues at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic are also seeing more kids with cholesterol and blood pressure problems--conditions that could easily lead to early heart disease.“Being overweight also contributes to sleep apnea, an interruption of breathing during sleep,” Dr. Byrd warns. “And, bad sleep patterns lead to problems with memory and learning. Kids with weight issues suffer more from asthma, liver disease and stress on knees and joints. Being overweight is a whole-body problem, stressing every system and every organ.”At What Age Is Weight an Issue?Excess weight is usually not a concern in babies and young children. However, after age 2 , the likelihood that a weight problem will persist into adulthood increases with each year that passes.A child whose weight is not brought under control by age six has a 50 percent chance of becoming an obese adult,” Dr. Byrd explains. “That’s why it is important to catch weight problems when children are young."What Is Causing the Super Sizing of America?What makes the new epidemic among children difficult to combat, Dr. Byrd says, is that today’s busy lifestyles encourage unhealthy behaviors.“Our families have changed,” the doctor explains. “Parents are working longer hours. They care very much about their children’s health, but the time to do the things that promote health, such as eating together as a family, at the table, with the television set off, isn’t possible for many families.”Dr. Byrd notes that our schools have changed, too, replacing recess with sedentary activities and making high-fat foods readily available from vending machines.“The fast food chains may be offering ‘healthier’ food choices, but our kids still prefer French Fries and ketchup,” he says. “And while all of us are rushing from place to place, too few of us take time for daily exercise.”Is Your Child Overweight?One guideline that doctors use to assess weight problems in children age 2 and older is body mass index (BMI). BMI is used somewhat differently in children than in adults.“Because children’s bodies change as they develop, their age and sex need to be taken into account,” Dr. Byrd explains. “At Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, our pediatricians use age and sex specific charts to follow a child’s BMI as he or she grows. Girls and boys have separate charts, because boys often carry more muscle than fat as they age.”If a child’s BMI is above the 85th percentile for their age, they are considered overweight. What Can One Parent Do?The biological causes of overweight children are the same as they are for adults.“People – children or adults – gain weight when they take in too many calories and burn off too few,” Dr. Byrd says. “The ‘cure’ is simple, but never easy – eat less and exercise more.”Dr. Byrd also offers these suggestions:Begin teaching healthy eating habits early. “If you allow a toddler to fill up on sweets and French fries, you are establishing a pattern that will be very hard to change,” the doctor says. “So, expose your youngsters early to fruits and vegetables and encourage them to try them.”Follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children should spend fewer than two hours a day watching television or playing computer or video games.Engage in family activities like walking, riding bicycles and playing sports. “Children should average 60 minutes of hard play or moderate activity five days a week,” Dr. Byrd advises. “Incorporating that activity into family time is a fun way to compensate for reduced activity levels in the schools.”Eat together as a family. Sit at the table, with the television set off. Encourage children to drink water instead of fruit drinks and sodas.Try to make sure your children get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.Don’t use food as a punishment or a reward. “Giving Johnny candy when he’s good and telling him to go to his room without supper when he misbehaves sends the wrong message,” Dr. Byrd explains. “We want children to recognize nutrition as essential to their health, not as a commodity of exchange.”Keep healthy snacks on hand. Stock your refrigerator with veggies and fat-free or low-fat yogurt.To schedule an appointment with a Kelsey-Seybold doctor, call our 24/7 Contact Center at (713) 442-0427.