It is our desire that you will use this website to expand your understanding of good nutrition and physical activity, and it would serve as a source to guide your children toward a healthy lifestyle. We want you and your family to live long, active and healthy lives — so let’s get started!
Food is one of life’s necessities. Nutrition is the series of processes by which our bodies take in and utilize food. Eating a variety of foods is a great source of nutrients. These nutrients give us energy, help repair body tissues and regulate body functions. Each nutrient is vital to health for complete physical, mental and social well-being. The relationship between the energy supplied by the nutrients ingested (or eaten) and the energy required by our activities is called energy balance. It is this balance that allows for weight maintenance.
However, when battling weight issues, food often becomes both friend and foe — you cannot live without it, and living with it is a problem. Childhood habits, time constraints and the media are often the determining factors of our food choices. By working with behavior-management techniques and nutritional guidance, you can learn to make better food choices.
Guiding children toward eating less high-calorie junk foods and “empty calories,” such as those found in sweetened beverages, as well as encouraging physical activity, are good places to start in helping kids achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Healthy weight is important even at a young age, because studies have shown that children who are overweight are more likely to become obese adults.
The “obesity epidemic”
What has been referred to as the “obesity epidemic” in the United States is real, even in our younger population.
- In the past three decades, the number of American children who are overweight has more than doubled among 2- to 5-year-old children and more than tripled among 6- to 11-year-old children.
- In 2009-2010, approximately 17% of U.S. children were overweight according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. When broken down by gender, approximately 18.6% of boys and 15.0% of girls were obese.
This rise in the numbers of overweight children is a major cause for concern, as being overweight increases risks of diet-related diseases such as type II diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, hypertension and osteoporosis. Children who are overweight also often experience psychological stress, poor body image and low self-esteem. The results of obesity are widespread, and include increases in physical and mental health problems, economic hardships from rising healthcare costs, and even shortened life spans.
Obesity is a chronic and complex disease that is characterized by too much fat in the body. People who are obese are at an increased risk later in life for coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, sleep apnea and low self-esteem. Obesity has become a serious issue in children and adolescents, causing many health and social consequences that carry on into adulthood. Instilling knowledge of proper nutrition and food choices in young children is essential for curbing the overweight and obesity epidemic.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older — more than 60 million people — are obese.
- The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6 to 19, 17 percent (more than 9 million young people) are considered overweight.
- Obesity is the No. 1 health problem of Americans, including children ages 6 to 11 and adolescents ages 12 to 17.
- The Centers for Disease Control reports that 31.8 percent of children and adolescents, ages 2-19, are either overweight or obese (2009-2010).
Body mass index is one measure to identify obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of his or her height. In children and adolescents, obesity is defined as a BMI for age and gender at or above the 95th percentile. Under the “Online Resources” tab, you can find a link to calculate your child’s BMI.
Causes of obesity
Several factors can lead to obesity in children, including behavioral reinforcers, environmental inducers, lack of physical activity and nutrition education, and social pressures.
Staying active is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Today’s child spends more time in sedentary activities, such as watching television and videos and playing video or computer games than participating in physical activities. These sedentary actions typically result in a higher BMI than those found in active children.
- Children in the United States today are more overweight and less fit compared to children of the 1960s.
- Little activity combined with poor diet choices are primary causes of obesity in American children.
- Today’s school-aged child spends an average of 26 hours each week watching television.
It is important to teach children the necessity for physical activity and nutritious food choices early and engage them in physical activities whenever possible.
Too much fat
Children receive high percentages of energy from fat found in “junk foods” and high-calorie foods. Keeping fat intake at moderate levels without being too restrictive is important. Do not forbid foods; the secret to offering appropriate food choices is moderation. Balance high-fat choices with low-fat choices and offer a variety of foods for children.
Children often face social pressures from society and receive mixed messages about food, such as food labeled “low-carb” and “fat-free,” as well. Television plays a major role in the obesity issue. When children spend too much time watching television, they do not have sufficient time to play outside or engage in other physical activities. Television, the largest media source of food advertising, can influence children’s ideas about food and send mixed messages. Advertisements for food appear throughout many television programs at all hours of the day and evening. Children see commercials for athletes eating at fast-food restaurants after a game. They see their peers eating high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages as snacks and meals. In turn, they often want to eat these foods, which could lead to a high caloric intake. Television viewing has been linked to low intake of grains, fruits and vegetables and higher intakes of high-fat meats.
Lack of nutrition education
Remember to share the reasons why your children should eat and drink certain foods and beverages. Rather than tell them to drink their milk because it’s good for them, explain how it helps their bodies. Explain the benefits of vitamins and nutrients that children gain from eating a variety of foods and help explain how diet can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If in doubt, ask the school nurse, family doctor or registered dieticians for help.
Consequences of obesity
The consequences of obesity in children have long-lasting effects that stretch into adolescence and well into adulthood. Research shows that overweight children are more likely to become obese adults. Children who continue to be overweight into adulthood can develop life-threatening problems. Primary physical consequences of obesity include cardiac disorders such as heart disease and hypertension, endocrine disorders, diabetes, respiratory disorders such as asthma and sleep apnea, and skin problems.
Childhood obesity also has emotional consequences, such as obsessing about weight and food.
- Half of all Americans are on a diet at any given time.
- There are more than 30,000 diets on public record.
Overweight children also face the stigma and social disapproval associated with obesity and being overweight. This discrimination can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, as well as psychological stress, poor body image and low self-esteem.
Encouraging healthy eating habits and incorporating exercise into daily routines may significantly reduce the risk for developing chronic diseases associated with obesity and being overweight.