Do you wonder why your child is overweight or obese? Pediatricians have found that childhood obesity is generally caused by a combination of unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise. Secondarily, genetics and lifestyle can have an impact on the child’s health. Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur more often with overweight children.
Type 2 diabetes which is normally considered an adult disease has increased dramatically in children that are obese. In fact, overweight children have more than a 65% chance of becoming obese as an adult. In turn, obese adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.
Obese children are not as concerned about the long term implications of their unhealthy condition. At an impressionable age, they are more concerned about how they appear to their peers. Unfortunately, children are influenced heavily by peers and can end up with low self esteem if not socially accepted due to being obese. This can lead to being left out of social circles and depression. Helping children improve their physical wellbeing will usually impact how they feel about themselves.
Knowing if your child is overweight can easily determined by measuring height and weight and then comparing the data to a BMI growth chart. On-line calculators can also determine your BMI when you input height, weight and sex. Entering the child’s age will then generate a percentile rank. Using a BMI chart or an on-line calculator should not be the only method of evaluation used by a parent. These are only tools used as part of an overall wellness assessment. If the BMI is high, then further evaluation of the child’s fitness should be completed by a medical practitioner.
With a better understanding of the risks associated with obesity, it is important now more than ever to get your child involved in regular activity and exercise. Even if your child experiences challenges related to mobility, fatigue, or simply a lack of motivation, now is the time to start planning for a healthy future. Working with professionals will help overcome these obstacles so that the journey to better fitness can begin. Simple things like using the stairs, walking around the block or riding a bike will get the blood flowing and burn calories.
Getting an assessment of the child’s eating habits by working with a nutritionist is just as important as the exercise component. Learning what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat will help the child make significant improvements in health. A nutritionist will help customize a healthy plan that is complimentary to what a growing child needs. A child needs to grow naturally, build strong bones and muscles and continue to get plenty of nutrients. Parents play a major role in shaping their children’s eating habits. What a child learns about eating from the parent is what the child will usually grow up doing for a lifetime.
It is important to think about how you will set the stage for your child’s success. The child has limited control on what nutritional products are purchased and what unhealthy products are left on the shelf. Parents shopping for food have the responsibility to choose healthy foods and communicate the reason for those choices to the children. Parental support is essential for success. Responsible adolescent programs will integrate counseling for the parents as well so that they can provide support at home. Parents will often be challenged with resistance from their children when changes in food are made at home. Parents need to be strong, not give in and educate their children on the value of the changes made.
Once the family has adopted a few new behaviors surrounding food and exercise, the parents and children will be well on their way to a healthier lifestyle. Being healthy role models as parents will be the most effective way for children to learn what a healthy lifestyle is all about. Now is the time to effect change with your children before they go out on their own. The eating habits and exercise habits they learn at home (good or bad) is the gift they will receive from you to take with them. Make it the gift that they will always be thankful for.