Getting a Grip on Childhood Obesity


American adults are overweight and obese, which is a huge problem for our healthcare system, tax dollars, productivity and quality of life. But the fact that our kids are increasingly obese means we may be dooming the next generation to an unhappy lifetime of chronic disease. We have to take action now to halt the juvenile obesity epidemic, or the consequences will be tragic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States — triple the rate from just one generation ago.” That 17 percent equates to 12.5 million obese children, ages 2 to 19.

In its 2011 “Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report,” the CDC blames a good part of this problem on the serving and advertising of “sugar drinks and less healthy foods on school campuses.” Ads sell junk foods to kids, while parents feed their children what they ask for instead of providing balanced meals. Added to that, kids are eating supersized portions of foods containing too much sugar and fat.

If we consider the alarming numbers of inner-city children with weight problems, it’s obvious that kids don’t get enough exercise and don’t have access to safe places to play. Even for those interested in outdoor activity, finding a safe place or even getting to one is an issue. In its “State Indicator Report on Physical Activity,  2010″ the CDC observes:

For many children, safe routes for walking or biking to school or play may not exist. Half of the children in the United States do not have a park, community center, and sidewalk in their neighborhood. Only 27 states have policies directing community-scale design.

Taking Action

With childhood obesity, we have many dependable options that can halt the problem.

To begin with, parents must take an active role in helping their kids control their weight. They need to: 1) Keep their children from gaining more weight; 2) Take steps to reduce their children’s current weight; and 3) Implement lasting changes in their homes and children’s lives that prevent the problem from returning.


The community’s infrastructure must provide kids with safe places to exercise and play. Write to your school board and local politicians to demand changes in schools and day care centers limiting the promotion of junk foods, improving the foods available at meals and boosting nutrition education.

Speak to local authorities about creating safer means of transportation and safer playing areas in all neighborhoods.

Diet and Nutrition

When you go food shopping, leave the kids at home. You don’t want them along to pressure you to buy the junk foods they think they want.

Instead of serving kids processed chicken fingers, cook your own chicken. You can serve them poultry coated with ground-up flax seed and whole-grain breading. They will hardly notice the difference, and they’ll be eating more fiber.

When making meat loaf, meatballs or burgers, simply include chopped spinach, shaved carrots or other vegetables that disappear into the 80/20 mix of beef and ground-up veggies.

Avoid deep-fat frying foods. Instead, use other methods like baking, steaming or sautéing.

Keep only healthful snacks in the house. Cookies and other sweets are a nice treat for kids (in limited quantity), but be sure they do not include hydrogenated oils (trans fats) or high fructose corn syrup.

Lose the Sugary Drinks

Strike sugary drinks from the home menu; banish soft drinks, Kool-Aid™ and even fruit juice. Your children should eat their fruit, not drink it. Juice’s sugar concentration is way too high, and it has no fiber.

Limit the serving of dairy in the home. If you allow milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream, it is best to use only the 1 percent fat varieties (for children over age 2).

Read food labels. Just because a food package says “fat free” does not mean the processed food within is healthy. Consider the fact that hard candy has no fat, but is full of sugar. High-glycemic white rice has no fat but is turned to fat by the body. It also turns to sugar rapidly in the body and is high on the glycemic index (a measurement of how fast foods are converted to sugar after you eat them).

Learn about the glycemic (blood sugar) index and build meals around the lowest glycemic foods. This will lead to healthier eating, and less cravings of sweets and simple carb foods that cause weight gain.

Introduce more thermogenic (fat burning) foods into the kids’ diet. These include: garlic, ginger, onion, cloves and mustard. All of these items boost metabolism and cause the body to heat up and break down food and burn calories and expel toxins.

Keep portions under control. Provide single-serving sizes at each meal.

Lifestyle Issues

Never reward a child for good behavior with foods. This can create an eating disorder where every success brings on a craving for sweets.

Never punish children by denying them sweets or dinner. This can also create an eating disorder, encouraging overeating in response to stress.

Only allow certain times per day for television, computers, video games and cellphone use. Children must have physical playtime to be healthy.

Set an example by not being a couch potato yourself. Get up and walk with your child, play outdoors with your child, ride a bike with your child, play ball, encourage situations for fun in the sun.

Plan special family outings; camping, hiking, biking, walking, and picnics with a ball or Frisbee. This sets up family time and healthful time, which leads to more exercise, better food choices and open communication.

Children crave schedules. So set one! Include TV time, homework time, playtime, physical activity time, mealtime, snack time and sleep time. Once they get into a routine, life gets easier.

Create a food menu for the week and post it to the wall or refrigerator. It should list all three meals plus snacks per day for the week. This makes food shopping easy, meal planning and preparation a snap, and keeps the kids in a mode of knowing what they get and when.

If possible, enroll children in local tennis, swimming, karate or other sports classes. This ensures they get exercise and sets up a healthy lifestyle they will likely follow on their own later. They will prefer activity to inactivity, as their body will crave it.

Take your child once a year for a physical examination to determine body mass index and height/weight ratios. This lets you know if the child is moving toward obesity, reducing fat at a healthy pace or just storing fat in preparation for a growth spurt.

Future Concerns

If left unchecked, childhood obesity presents several serious health concerns, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The CDC reports in one study, “70 percent of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39 percent had two.” Other complications of obesity include: asthma, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and type II diabetes, not to mention psycho-social issues like low self-esteem and discrimination.

When all is said and done, adults have caused the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Children don’t have much say in what foods are available to them at home or in school, or what they get fed. And if adults eat junk food, they do likewise. After all, children learn by example.

When parents can make changes in themselves and in their homes, then they can start making healthy changes in schools and communities. These are the grassroots changes that need be made for our children to grow into healthy adults.

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