Fighting childhood obesity is a family affair

Fighting childhood obesity is a family affair

Baby fat was kind of cute when your little one was toddling around the house in diapers. But now, he’s in elementary school, and those love handles haven’t gone away. If your kids are overweight, you’re not alone.

Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, a physician with Advocate Medical Group, says keeping kids fit is a family affair.

“The entire family needs to be engaged in the dietary changes that are essential to treating the child who is overweight or obese,” she says. “Everyone in the house needs make every effort to limit fast food, increase exercise and place a high value on healthy eating.”

Childhood obesity is on the rise and with it comes a host of health threats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010.

Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height. Obesity is defined as having 20 percent or more of excess body fat beyond an ideal body weight.

Health experts say obesity has both immediate and long-term health consequences for children. In the short term, obese kids are at risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Over their lifetime, they are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis and heart disease, according to the CDC.

It’s a touchy subject, but physicians say parents should be honest with themselves and their kids.

Sometimes the odds can seem stacked against kids as they are bombarded with advertisements and other messages promoting tasty, cheap but unhealthy foods. Dr. DeBruler advises parents to keep a united front.

“Behavioral modification that is family-centered is more effective than working with the child alone,” she says. “Limit computer game time and TV watching to two hours a day and keep the junk food out of the house. Anything you can do that encourages movement and exercise will help.”

Dr. DeBruler says there is “too much and too little” when it comes to keeping kids in a healthy weight range.

“Our kids eat too much sugar, too much fast food and too many trans fats,” she says. “On the opposite side, they have too few whole grains, fruits and veggies and too little exercise. Parents are the primary influencers in a child’s life. It’s really up to us to set the example.”

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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.