September is National Childhood Obesity awareness month. Childhood obesity and overweight is a growing problem in the United States; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of obese children has more than tripled in the past three decades. More than a third of children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for adulthood obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and psychological problems caused by a low self-esteem or being stigmatized.
Since children grow at varying rates as they go from toddlerhood to adolescence, it can be difficult to know if your child is overweight. The only way to know for sure is to have her weighed at the doctor’s office and to have her growth plotted on a growth chart. Keep in mind that many times, children gain weight in the pre-teen years in preparation for a large growth spurt, so don’t panic if you see some extra weight around your child’s middle during these years, but do have her weight checked at her next well-visit.
Your pediatrician can give you some tips for avoiding childhood obesity, as well as tips on how to turn things around if your child seems to be headed in that direction. Here are a few things that you can do whether your child is obese or not, to keep her healthy and reduce her risk of developing the health problems associated with overweight and obesity:
- Make exercise part of your family’s routine. No child wants to feel like she’s being chosen to do something that no one else has to do. If your family tends to be sedentary, get up and get moving. Start walking after dinner, go to the park on the weekends or sign up for a membership at your community’s swimming pool (and visit often). This will benefit everyone, you included! Read our Hints for Hiking With Children
- Cook with fresh foods as much as possible. Avoiding high-fat and high-calorie convenience foods can go a long way in keeping everyone’s blood pressure and waistline under control. If you don’t have a lot of time during the week to make healthy dinners, utilize your slow cooker or try once-a-month (or -week) cooking. We have created an Organic Food Guide for your family to follow. And for all you cooks out there, we know how hard it is to come up with a healthy meal every night so we put together a guide on Incorporating Convenience Foods Into Your Home Cooking
- Offer sensible snack foods. A healthy diet consists of fruits, veggies, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. Fill your fridge and cabinets with these types of foods and avoid buying pastries, chips and things that no one in the house should be eating much of anyway. You can always go out for ice cream occasionally or buy a cake for birthdays; you don’t need to keep it in the house all the time. Now that school is back in session we have some great ideas for lunch snacks.
- Teach your child how to read food labels and make good choices. All kids should know that they should avoid trans fats, that unsaturated fat is heart healthy, and that they shouldn’t eat too many salty or sugary foods. This knowledge will serve them well as they head into adulthood.
If your child is already obese, work with a nutritionist to help her achieve a healthy weight. An overweight child is likely to become an overweight adult, with all of the health problems and issues that go along with that. Do what you can now to minimize the effects of childhood obesity in your family. As with anything else, if you have concerns about your child’s health, consult with a medical professional.