The American Academy of Pediatrics has described the rise in childhood obesity as an "unprecedented burden" on children's health. Obesity in childhood is linked with hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea and psychosocial and orthopedic problems. Overweight teens have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. Many parents wonder if their child is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.
Lesley Stanford, a registered dietitian at Duke Children’s Health Center, tells us more about what parents can do to help children achieve a healthy weight:
If your child is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight and you want to take action, start with a visit to your child’s pediatrician -- he or she can give you many of the tools you’ll need to help.
The visit may begin with a look at your child’s growth chart. The pediatrician can use the height and weight measurements to calculate your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) -- a measurement used to assess whether the child is underweight, normal, overweight, or obese, based on guidelines for children adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In some cases, the best goal may not be to lose weight, but to allow your child to grow into his or her current weight. Keeping your child’s weight stable is often the right advice.
If your child needs weight management, your doctor will help you develop a program to help your child reach a healthy weight goal.
The Obesity Epidemic
Over the last 25 years, the rate of obesity has doubled for children ages six to 11 and has tripled for teens. Today about 10 percent of two- to five-year-olds and 15 percent of six- to 19-year-olds are overweight.
In North Carolina, the numbers are more alarming than the national average. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this state. Data from the 2004 NC Nutrition and Physical Activity Surveillance System (NC-NPASS) show that childhood obesity affects:
- More than one in four (27.2 percent) youth 12 to 18 years of age
- More than one in five (23.8 percent) children five to 11 years
- One in eight (14.9 percent) preschool children
If your child is overweight or at risk for being overweight, look closely at what your family routines are. Do you eat out more than you did last year? Do you buy chips and cookies and other high-fat snacks each trip to the grocery store? Do you rely on fast food?
What Parents Can Do
If you and your child’s doctor determine that weight has become an issue for your child, it’s not too late to start working on healthy habits. Be a positive role model. While weight management is hard work, it is possible.
Follow these tips to help keep your child from becoming overweight.
- Limit intake of sweetened beverages.
- Limit TV/video time to one to two hours a day.
- Encourage daily physical activity.
- Provide portion sizes of foods that are appropriate for the age.
- Prepare and eat more meals at home.
- Create a healthy eating environment.
Want to learn more? Get more tips on how you can help your family reach and maintain a healthy weight in the full article in the Your Child's Health section on dukehealth.org.