by Alexa Bigwarfe
In 2010 the White House declared September as “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.” This is a month focused not only on bringing awareness to the problem of obesity, but also to encourage the nation to work together to implement plans, programs, and activities to reduce obesity among children. Parents, teachers, health care providers, and other civic organizations are all charged to be a part of this process.
In the recent 9th Annual National Poll on Children’s Health conducted in May 2015, 60% of adults surveyed chose obesity as the number 1 health issue for children. Obesity amongst children has become an epidemic, with more than 23 million obese or overweight children in America. That’s approximately one in three children. These children will face a lifetime of health issues if measures are not taken to get them healthy. Some of the associated risks include a higher chance for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, higher risks for cancer, being the victim of bullying and other related mental health issues.
62% of parents with an obese child believe their child is a healthy weight.
This is not just a personal problem. It’s a national crisis. And it is costly. Each obese child costs the healthcare system about $19,000; a staggering $14 billion dollars a year in preventable health care costs.
So what do we do about it? Simply telling a child to “eat more fruits and vegetables” or “go play” is about as effective as saying “just go clean your room.” It takes a family and community focus on promoting healthy and active lifestyles to truly see changes.
Suggested ways to make a difference in your family:
- Know what you are feeding your child. There is a lot of discussion about all of the chemicals and other processed materials in our packaged food that is likely leading to weight gain and other negative reactions.
- Limit sugar. The amount of sugar in our diets is outrageous. Read labels and try to eliminate snacks and drinks with high sugar content.
- Find ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables at every meal. Offer fruits and veggies as a snack first, with junk foods after they’ve eating a healthy snack.
- Strive to be an “active family.” Take walks, nature hikes, make scavenger hunts, or just play catch. Any activity is better than no activity.
- Limit television time. Maybe even implement a “no TV on school nights” rule. This will also help with getting more activity.
Parents, in addition to implementing healthy habits, we have to be realistic and communicate with our pediatrician about healthy weight ranges for our children. Studies and reports indicate that the programs to reduce obesity are not being taken seriously in the home because many children and parents have a misperception about their weight. A study published in Maternal & Child Nutrition in 2013 reported that 62% of parents with an obese child believed their child was a healthy weight. The CDC further reported that about 30% of obese children and teens in the United States believe their weight is normal. We must be better educated about what is truly a healthy weight in order to help our children.
The good news is that all of these health issues are reversible with a change in diet and lifestyle. As with so many things, good habits start in the home, and it’s really important that parents take the lead on these programs to make them successful.
Alexa Bigwarfe is a freelance writer and mom to three young children. She writes about children’s health and wellness topics.