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How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

The chubby cheeks and plump feet of a baby are cute in the beginning, but when the infant grows into a child with a glaring weight problem, the circumstances take a drastic turn for the worse. While some children are able to shed their “baby fat” through regular exercise and a high level of energy, other kids are not so lucky, as they only further their weight gain through poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and negative influences. When parents, schools, and other outside controls take an active stance against childhood obesity, the growing problem is seen as an easily preventable occurrence.

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

What is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is considered a medical condition that is becoming a serious problem amongst children. The condition is characterized by weight measurements that are well above the estimated average based upon the height and age of a child [1]. Obesity in children is also seen in a body mass index that is well above the norm.

In the United States, the issue of childhood obesity is viewed as an “epidemic.” More than 15% of children in America are rated as obese with numbers continuing to grow across the world. For example, it is estimated that more than 15% of American children are classified as obese, while about 20 to 25% of the children in Australia are considered overweight or obese [1].

Each year, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert the public to the growing incidence of childhood obesity. Results often show that about one-third of children in the United States are overweight or face the risk of becoming overweight. To date, about 25 million U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or nearly overweight [2]

The Negative Effects of Childhood Obesity

Children who are obese face a long road ahead of them that only continues to get worse as they grow into an adult. A few negative effects associated with childhood obesity includes:

a) Health Complications:

Obese children face a high risk of developing serious health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. The conditions only worsen as they age and before long, an obese child faces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes; metabolic syndrome; high blood pressure; asthma and other respiratory problems; sleep disorders; liver disease; early puberty or menstruation; a host of eating disorders; and skin infections [3].

b) Social and Emotional Distress:

The social and emotional implications are also detrimental to children, which can become an especially damaging problem for school bound youths. Children are often teased or bullied when they are overweight, which increases the chances of suffering low self-esteem and an increased risk of depression.

Behavioral and learning problems are more likely to develop, as overweight children tend to exhibit a higher level of anxiety and effected social skills. An obese child may also choose to respond in one of two ways – becoming the class clown (disrupting the classroom) to gain social acceptance or withdrawing from the other children. In either event, the threat of poor grades becomes a possibility.

c) Depression:

The social isolation and low self-confidence associated with childhood obesity may create a sense of hopelessness and rejection, which fosters the development of depression. Obese children with depression may lose interest in normal socializations, sleep more than usual, or break into fits of crying. Other depressed kids will attempt to hide their sadness and become emotionally detached from family, friends, and their peers.

d) Adulthood Threats:

The health, social and psychological setbacks linked to childhood obesity are more likely to continue into adulthood if proper assistance and support is not received [4]. The worst cases end in a shortened life span and in some cases, suicidal tenancies.

Childhood Obesity Risk Factors [5]

The prevention of childhood obesity is furthered when risk factors are identified and properly dealt with. A wide-range of outside influences may cause a child to fall victim to the implications of obesity. A few to consider includes:

a) Poor Eating Habits:

Whether the child possesses a sweet tooth or their parents are lax in the types of foods their children eat, poor eating habits are formed. Often, parents play an important role in the things their children eat, especially since they are the ones that purchase the food stored in the household and are responsible for cooking and presenting daily meals.

b) Food Preparation:

Regardless if a child settles in for a delicious home-cooked meal or spends most dinners at a restaurant (fast-food and sit-down settings), food preparation and portion control can adversely affect eating habits and obesity risk. Usually, restaurants serve much more than the daily-recommended portions for lunch and dinner. Many parents also have a habit of using large amounts of butter, margarine, and cooking oils during the preparation of dinner.

c) Lack of Exercise:

Frequent physical activity is a must to prevent obesity and with all of the technological distractions a child faces, it is becoming more and more difficult to get kids in motion. Video games, computers, and mobile phones are leading to higher body fat storage, as unused energy becomes fat with lack of movement and calorie burning.

d) Low Income Families:

It is assessed that households with lower incomes are more likely to produce overweight children than higher-income families. The lack of eating breakfast in the morning is also considered a major contribution to the increase in childhood obesity.

e) Psychological Factors:

An obese child may harbor poor eating habits because they use food as a way to deal with stress or negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, and boredom. Depression is also a common cause of overeating.

f) Heredity:

When a child has a mother or father that is overweight or obese, their chances of developing the same problem are rather high. This may come in the form of unhealthy eating habits within the household or could be the result of an inherited predisposition towards obesity.

g) Illness:

There are conditions, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, and certain neurological deficiencies that can lead to childhood obesity. A child may also face a tendency to gain weight because of the drugs they must take in order to treat these conditions. Steroids and antidepressants are known to cause excess weight in children.

h) Television [4]:

Limiting the amount of time watching the tube is a pretty influential factor when it comes to preventing childhood obesity. Children and adolescents who watch the most TV on a weekly basis are more likely to become obese than their peers who watch less. This means that the more television watched, the greater the prevalence of obesity is seen in children.

Television is a major contributor to childhood obesity because it requires no energy above a resting metabolic rate; it reduces the amount of energetic activity a child may participate in; and exposes a child to heavily advertised foods that contain a high amount of calories (candy bars, sugary cereals, and soda).

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity prevention is vital to ensure the health and safety of today’s youth who are still growing into their bodies and finding their way in the world. To prevent the many physical, psychological, and developmental effects that come with obesity in children, the following measures are suggested:

a) Encourage Healthy Eating:

The regular consumption of high-calorie foods, such as that McDonalds’s double cheeseburger, Triple Thick milkshake, baked goods, vending-machine snacks, soda, candy, and desserts should be discouraged. A good way to prevent childhood obesity is to promote the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as teaching them how to make healthy dietary choices once outside of the home.

b) Increase Exercise:

Limiting the amount of time a child may indulge in stationary leisure activities, such as playing video games and watching TV is a good way to prevent childhood obesity. Children who lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to gain weight because they do not give their body the opportunity to burn calories.

c) Intense Family Support:

Children are unable to alter their lifestyle habits without the encouragement and support of parents and other family members. Some of the best obesity prevention methods are those that involve the entire family. An example of this is seen when the whole family starts on a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and exercises portion control.

d) Ease Into Changes:

Trying to make a multitude of lifestyle changes all at once may create a recipe for disaster that ends in failure. It takes time, patience, and dedication to prevent childhood obesity, meaning it is rather difficult to unlearn ingrained behaviors overnight.

e) Set Both Individual and Family Goals:

When entering a program to prevent childhood obesity, it is suggested to make personal goals that can be achieved and added to mounting progress. This may include trying to eat a salad with every dinner. Families may join in the weight management goals, as well. A fun way to embrace this sort of lifestyle is to try a new vegetable or fruit each month.

f) Improve the Environment:

There are many different temptations that form difficult obstacles hard for a child to resist when trying to prevent obesity. Parents can make their quest to stay fit much easier by creating an environment that promotes healthy eating. Helpful suggestions include removing sugar-sweetened drinks from the cupboards; switching to whole-grain ingredients when cooking; reducing the number of meals eaten outside of the home (fast-food and other restaurants); sitting down at the dining room table for more family meals that last at least 30 minutes; and including children in active chores that increases their daily amount of exercise (washing the car, mowing the lawn or walking the dog).

g) Reward Success:

Food should not be used as a reward, or a punishment in regards to children. When one is trying to change their lifestyle in order to battle obesity, encouraging rewards help boost confidence and promote a continuation of healthy changes. This may include a positive family outing (fishing or camping trip, roller skating in the park, or biking to the beach). Individual rewards may include a new basketball or pair of jogging pants.

h) School Involvement [6]:

Since children spend a chunk of their day at school, it is important that institutions promote healthy eating, which especially shows through in the types of foods they offer children for lunch. Some schools have taken an active role and implemented programs that promote good nutrition rather than support junk food companies that offer snacks with added sugar and fat. Some learning centers have also increased the amount of healthy foods available to children. An example of this is substituting chips and candy with fresh fruit in vending machines.

Resources

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