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Keep children at healthy weight with these 8 tips

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By Dr. Elizabeth Smoots
Published:
Today's children are the first generation that may not live as long as their parents.
This shocking statement set the stage for a program I watched on the Discovery Health channel about childhood obesity.
Will this tragedy truly came to pass?
No one knows for sure. As the program made abundantly clear to me, though, even the experts have grown concerned.
There's still hope. Parents and society can take measures to turn the situation around.
To reverse the growing childhood-obesity trend, isn't it time we got started?
Some weighty issues
Dr. William Dietz, director of nutrition and physical activity for the Centers for Disease Control, reports that about 9 million youth in this country are obese. That number has tripled in adolescents, and doubled in children, over the past couple of decades.
"I'm often asked what changed in the United States to produce this epidemic of obesity," Dietz said. "And the answer is everything. There is food that's readily available, tasty and inexpensive everyplace we go. Those foods tend to be high in calories, high in fat, high in sugar. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for children to be active."
Another potential contributing factor is how busy people are, Dietz said. The stress that many families face can make it difficult to prepare a meal, sit down together -- sometimes even to shop. And eating fewer family meals means that more high-calorie meals are consumed outside the home.
Then there's television. Surveys indicate that 65 percent of all children have a TV in their bedroom. The more TV children watch, the more they consume the foods advertised there. These extra calories add up over time.
Prevention of obesity
"In this abundant food environment, one of the most important lessons that children can learn is how to care for their bodies," said Dr. Michelle May, chairwoman of the American Academy of Family Physicians' Americans in Motion campaign.
May suggests these ways you can help children:
Limit sweetened beverages: Soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and fruit juices are all much higher in calories than water.
Serve healthful foods: Make sure kids get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Start with breakfast: Children who eat breakfast perform better in school. They're also less likely to overeat later in the day.
Watch portion sizes: Parents have the responsibility to provide the right foods and the right quantities. And children have the responsibility to decide how much to eat. Clear boundaries help children develop an instinctive ability to indicate when they're hungry and to stop eating when they're full.
Encourage daily exercise: Children need at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, which they can accumulate in 10-minute increments. Running, walking, biking, sports, games and playing outdoors are options kids may enjoy.
Limit screen time: Watching TV and playing video and computer games should be restricted in the home to less than two hours a day.
No TV in the bedroom: If it's there, most children will trade playtime for more time holed up watching television in their rooms.
Monitor your child's weight: Have your child's doctor record your child's height, weight and body mass index at each visit.
And what a difference these measures can make.
"Simple steps like family mealtimes, active play and respecting a child's natural hunger and fullness cues help children thrive while maintaining a healthy weight," May said.
For more information: Discovery Health, health.discovery.com.
Contact Dr. Elizabeth Smoots, a board-certified family physician and fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, at doctor@practicalprevention.com. Her columns are not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this column consult your health care provider.
© 2007 Elizabeth S. Smoots
Story tags » Health treatment

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