Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Childhood Obesity. Are Your Kids At Risk?

I have realized that the majority of blogs out there focus on adult weight issues and solutions but what about obesity in children? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity has almost tripled in the past 30 years. Crazy thought isn’t it? Just like adults obese children are more likely to have risk factors for heart diseases like high cholesterol and blood pressure and are also more likely to have bone or joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological problems due to their weight. Obese children are also more likely to be obese as adults, which places them at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis and even stroke.

Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. If you think that your child is overweight, talk to your family doctor or a child nutritionist. They can tell you if your child’s weight and height are in a healthy range better than anyone but you can also learn how to measure your Childs BMI-for-age correctly by sex. Here is how.

**Keep in mind The metric version of the equation is weight (kg) / [height (m)]^2. To convert weight in pounds to weight in kilograms, divide weight in pounds by 2.2. To convert height in inches to height in meters, multiply height in inches by 2.54. Then divide by 100**

Step 1
Measure the child's height and weight. It is important that accurate measurements are taken as this can have an affect on the outcome of the equation.

Step 2
Use the child and adolescent calculator. The standard BMI calculator is for adults over the age 20, and the results for children are based on a percentile rather than a straight number system. An example of the difference is that a 10 yr old boy with a BMI of 23 is considered obese because it is above the 95th percentile. However if using the adult BMI scale, 23 would be right in the middle of the healthy weight category. Because at 10, that child is not at an adult height.

Step 3
Calculate BMI using the formula  - weight (lbs) / [height (in)]^2 x 703.
When using English measurements, fractions must be converted to fractions and changed to decimals. OR by a child and adolescent BMI calculator appropriate for your child’s sex.

Child BMI calculator for a Boy 
Child BMI calculator for a Girl 

Step 4
Finally find the child's weight status category for the calculated BMI-for-age percentile. Underweight is less than the 5th percentile. Healthy weight is from 5th to 85th percentile. Overweight is 85th through 95th percentile, so a BMI equal or greater than 95th percentile represents obesity.

BMI-for-age for a Boy 
BMI-for-age for a Girl

Eating too much and exercising too little may lead to obesity and other health problems that may follow your child into their adult years. Healthy eating and physical activity habits are key to your child’s well-being and the good news is that you can take an active role to help your child, along with  your whole family, to learn healthy eating and physical activity habits that will stick with your children forever. There are a few very simple and easy things to do!

Be a Positive Role Model. Children are good learners and they often mimic what they see the monkey see monkey do idea. Choose healthy foods and activities for yourself and involve the whole family in building healthy eating and physical activity habits. This benefits everyone and does not single out the child who is overweight. It is also important  to not put your child on a diet unless your health care provider tells you to. There is a difference between a diet and healthy eating habits! If children do not eat enough, they may not grow and learn as well as they should.

Support your kids. Children’s feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents feel about them.

  • Tell your child that he or she is loved, special, and important to you, and mean it! 
  • Accept your child at any weight because children are more likely to accept and feel good about themselves when their parents accept them.
  • Listen to your child’s concerns about his or her weight. Obese children, jut like adults, probably know better than anyone else that they have a weight problem. They need support, understanding, and encouragement from parents, because let’s face it, kids are cruel.

Encourage healthy eating habits around the house. This is as simple as some small changes in how you go grocery shopping, and let's face it, for those of us who have lost weight, we probably already do this for ourselves so why not do it for the whole household.

  • Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried).
  • Buy fewer soft drinks and avoid high-fat or high-calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy. These snacks may be OK once in a while, but always keep healthy snack foods on hand. Offer the healthy snacks more often at snack times and use the other foods as a special treat.
  • Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. Breakfast may provide your child with the energy he or she needs to listen and learn during the day. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
  • Eat fast food less often. When you do visit a fast food restaurant, encourage your family to choose the healthier options, such as salads, small sandwiches without cheese, or to choose the apples or oranges instead of fries.
  • Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Low-fat milk, well milk products in general, are important for your child’s development. One hundred percent fruit juice is a healthy choice but is high in calories and sugar.
  • Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in your family’s diet. Try to obtain most of your fats from sources such as fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. 
  • Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods and has been shown to make the bond between families stronger.
  • Do not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it. 
  • Try not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they think are less valuable. 
  • Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is up to you to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat. 
  • Be aware that some high-fat or high-sugar foods and drinks are strongly marketed to kids. Usually these products are associated with cartoon characters, offer free toys, and come in bright packages. Talk with your child about the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods even if they are not often advertised on TV or in stores.
  • Let your child choose them at the store. 

For healthy snack ideas your child might enjoy try the following foods:

  •   Fresh fruit (can offer yogurt as a dipping sauce)
  •   Fruit canned in juice or light syrup.
  •   Small amounts of dried fruits, such as raisins, apple rings, or apricots.
  •   Fresh vegetables, such as baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes (even with a little ranch to dip them in)
  •   Low-sugar, whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk.

**Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard to chew, such as raisins, whole grapes, hard vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts, seeds, and popcorn, can cause choking in children under age 4. You can still prepare some of these foods for young children, for example, by cutting grapes into small pieces and cooking and cutting up vegetables. Always watch your toddler during meals and snacks.**

Encourage daily activities because just like adults, kids need daily physical activity and starting now will cause them to want to stay active as they get older. Here are some ways to help your child move every day:

  • Set a good example.
  • Encourage your child to join a sports team or class, such as soccer, dance, basketball, or gymnastics at school or at your local community or recreation center. 
  • Be sensitive to your child’s needs. If your child feels uncomfortable participating in activities like sports, help him or her find physical activities that are fun and not embarrassing, such as playing tag with friends or siblings, jumping rope, or dancing to his or her favorite music. Do not push them to play something they do not like.
  • Be active together as a family. Assign active chores such as making the beds, washing the car, or vacuuming. Plan active outings such as a trip to the zoo, a family bike ride, or a walk through a local park. If your child sees that you are physically active and that you have fun doing it, he or she is more likely to be active throughout life. 

Discouraging inactive activities can help as well. Set limits on the amount of time your family spends watching TV, playing video games, and being on the computer. Help your child find FUN things to do besides watching TV, like acting out favorite books or stories, or doing a family art project. Help your child realize that creative play is more interesting than TV, and encourage your child to get up and move during commercials and discourage snacking when the TV is on.

There is one thing I stress though, a child’s body is not ready for adult-style physical activity so do not encourage your child to participate in activities such as long jogs, using an exercise bike or treadmill, or lifting heavy weights. Do not push them to do something that makes them uncomfortable and if they say something hurts while being active pay attention. Do push them to try some FUN physical activities that they choose to do on their own, that is normally the best way to keep hem interested. Kids need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but this does not have to happen all at once. Several short 10- or even 5-minute periods of activity throughout the day are just as good. If your children are not used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day. Some physical activities your child might enjoy trying are:

  • Riding a bike.
  • Climbing on a jungle gym.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Playing hopscotch.
  • Bouncing a ball.
  • Dancing.
  • Playing catch.

When it comes to having healthy children and setting up a healthy future, it is all in your hands, and luckily, the habits and examples that need to be set should be second nature by now and can help them as well as continue to help yourself stay on the right track to a healthy lifestyle.

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