By Anush Sahakian, MD, an Internal Medicine Specialist at Steward Health Care
We are always looking to promote healthy, active lifestyles and raise awareness about critical health issues. And during the month of September, Americans across the country are working to raise national awareness about childhood obesity.
Today, one in five children in America struggles with obesity. Children diagnosed with obesity are more likely to have long-term chronic health issues like asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer. Obesity is an epidemic in America that is putting our children and their future at risk.
But what exactly is obesity? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define obesity as having excess body fat. This is not to be confused with being overweight, which is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height. The key distinction here is that when someone has extra weight predominantly from the excess of fat alone, they are likely struggling with obesity.
The most common way for doctors like me and my colleagues at Steward Health Care to test for obesity is to measure your Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a measure used by doctors that estimates a healthy weight range for someone of your height, weight, and age. While no test is perfect, the BMI is the preferred tool for measuring childhood obesity because children are typically still growing and it can factor that growth into the determination of a healthy weight range.
What is important to note, however, is that there are numerous body types and sizes.
There is no exact weight that is ideal for every child. That is why we aim to promote a healthy lifestyle for our patients throughout the community. As National Childhood Obesity Awareness kicks into full gear, here are some things parents can do to combat childhood obesity and promote a healthy and active lifestyle for their children.
- Lead by example – Do some physical activity, like taking a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes per day.
- Get moving – Reduce sedentary activities that you and your family do, like sitting and watching television.
- Cut the sweets – Many studies now show that high amounts of sugar in diets in adults and children can cause weight gain and behavioral problems in children.
- Cook at home – Studies show that home cooked meals are typically healthier than their restaurant counterparts, and they are cheaper too! In 2016, the average price of a home cooked meal dropped by 0.5 percent while average restaurant prices rose by 2.7 percent.
- Snack smart – Buy healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and yogurt; avoid buying sugary drinks like soda and sugary snacks like candy and other sweets.
- Talk with your kids – Speak with your kids about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and the risks associated with childhood obesity. Teach them to love their bodies and to set realistic health goals no matter what their weight is!
These are just a few tips to help those looking to make a positive change in their lifestyle, but it is just a start. We encourage you to think of healthy changes that you can implement in your life, big or small, and to share those tips with your family and friends. By raising awareness and taking steps to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, we can each play a part in combating childhood obesity and prevent serious health programs later in adulthood.
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