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Overweight Kids May Develop Serious Health Conditions
By Ayesha Irani, DO, FAAP, IBCLC
There are serious future health consequences for children who are overweight, including developing diseases in their 20s and 30s that we typically associate with middle and old age.
For example, pediatricians in the U.S.A. report an increasing number of children have high insulin levels, which puts them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if they don’t lose excess weight.
Doctors also report seeing more kids than ever with:
- Cholesterol and blood pressure problems, conditions that could easily lead to early heart disease.
- Sleep apnea, an interruption of breathing during sleep, which could lead to problems with memory and learning.
- Asthma, liver disease, and stress on knees and joints.
Being overweight is a whole-body problem that stresses every system and every organ, especially for a child whose bones are still growing.
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 isn’t brought under control by age 6 has a 50% chance of becoming an obese adult. That’s why it’s important to catch weight problems when children are young.
What Is Causing the Super Sizing of America?
Family lifestyles have changed over the years. Parents are working longer hours and aren’t always able to do things that promote health, such as taking the time to prepare healthy meals and eat together as a family with televisions and digital devices turned off.
While fast-food chains may offer healthier food choices, kids will still prefer the unhealthy options, and parents may not have time to negotiate with them. Also, our preoccupation with electronics have made children more sedentary.
What Can Parents 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. The "cure" is simple, but not necessarily easy: Eat less and exercise more.
Here are some more suggestions to help your child get and stay on a healthy path:
- Begin teaching healthy eating habits early. If you allow a toddler to fill up on sweets and French fries, you're establishing a pattern that will be very hard to change. Expose your children to fruits and vegetables early on and encourage them to try them. Make sure your children get at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily
- Follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children should spend fewer than two hours a day in front of a screen, except for educational purposes.
- 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. Incorporating that activity into family time is a fun way to compensate for reduced activity levels in the schools.
- Eat together as a family. Encourage children to drink water instead of fruit drinks and sodas.
- Don’t use food as a punishment or a reward. Giving your child candy when he’s good and telling him to go to his room without supper when he misbehaves sends the wrong message. Children should recognize nutrition as essential to their health, not as a commodity of exchange.
- Stock your kitchen with veggies, fruit, fat-free or low-fat yogurt and cheese, nuts, and other healthy snacks, so kids can easily grab them when they’re hungry.