Childhood Obesity: Awareness & Tips

Author:  Lauren Grieco, MS, RD, LD and Caroline Wang

Posted: September 15, 2021

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This blog will discuss the prevalence, risk factors, prevention techniques, treatment, and advice for folks for youngsters affected.

Childhood obesity is currently an awfully significant issue in the United States, putting children and adolescents in danger of poor health. Due to the high prevalence of childhood obesity, it is important for both parents and teenagers to grasp the background of this disease.

For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in 2017-2018:

  • The prevalence of obesity was 19.3% and affected about 14.4 million children and adolescents1.

This high prevalence is worrisome to healthcare in America as emerging research shows that the genesis of Type 2 Diabetes and Coronary Heart condition begins in childhood, with childhood obesity serving as an important factor2.

Furthermore, children with overweight or obesity are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and cardiopathy. Children with obesity are also more likely to be plagued by social and mental issues like bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem3.

Risk Factors

Having risk factors for childhood obesity, does not guarantee that your child will develop obesity. Many of those risk factors are often controlled or reduced through behaviors.

These risk factors usually add the combination to extend your child's risk of becoming overweight1:

  • Diet/Nutrition: Frequently eating calorie-dense foods, such as food, fast foods, baked goods, and vending machine snacks, can often contribute to weight gain. Studies have explored the link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain, and it's been continually found to be a contributing factor.  Furthermore, sugary drinks are less filling than food and and maybe consumed quicker, which results in a very higher caloric intake2.
  • Portion sizes: Portion sizes have increased significantly in the past decade. Consuming large portions, in addition to frequent snacking on highly caloric foods, contribute to an excessive caloric intake leading to weight gain2.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: Children who don't exercise often are more likely to gain weight due to more calories consumed than worked off. Too much time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, also contributes to the problem4.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors count for fewer than 5% of cases of childhood obesity4. However, genetic susceptibility often much be in addition to contributing environmental and behavioral factors so as in order to affect weight2.
  • Psychological factors: Personal, parental, and family stress can increase a child's risk of obesity. Furthermore, families with overweight children experience more parenting stress5
  • Medications: Some prescription drugs can increase the risk of developing obesity. They include prednisone, lithium, amitriptyline, paroxetine (Paxil), gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant) and propranolol (Inderal, Hemangeol). Always ask your healthcare provider if you've got concerns regarding medication use and weight gain.

Prevention & Treatment

Many of the guidelines for obesity prevention coincide with tips for treatment if your child is overweight or obese.

Healthy Eating

  • Family mealtime
    • While eating together as a family might not always be feasible, it is important to incorporate family mealtimes as often as possible. Children will often mimic eating patterns and habits of relations. This also allows parents more control of what's going into their children’s meals.
  • Eat the rainbow
    • Try to include a range of colors of fruits and vegetables in meals throughout the week. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are nutrient-dense choices.
    • To make it more enjoyable for the family, try buying fresh in-season produce. As an example, take the family apple picking within the fall. Use the apples throughout the week as snacks and even in desserts! 
  • Healthy Breakfast
    • A balanced breakfast can set up your child for success. A breakfast containing both protein and carbohydrates will allow your child to possess lasting energy and fullness to discourage snacking. Breakfast is also a great opportunity to add more fruits or veggies to your child’s meals.
  • Nutritious Beverages
    • Fruit juices, soda, coffee drinks, milkshakes, and some smoothies are often calorie-dense beverages choices.
    • Swap these drinks out for water, low fat milk, seltzer water, homemade smoothies with no added sugar. Small swaps like beverages choices can make a sustainable difference long term!
  • MyPlate eating
    • Use the MyPlate technique to create meals for your children. The MyPlate method uses the plate to show that the plate should contain 50% vegetables or fruit, 25% protein, and 25% grains (leaning towards at least half being whole grains).
    • This aids your child in getting both the necessary macronutrients and micronutrients for a strong healthy body!

Physical Activity

  • Make Physical Activity Fun
    • Create goals, weekly challenges, and games to create physical activity more enjoyable. Create a list of movements that your child enjoys. For example, jump rope, hopscotch, basketball, hula hoop, or swimming. When physical activity is fun, goals are more easily met!
  • Move as a Family
    • Schedule time throughout the week to enjoy movement together as a family. Head to the park, take a hike, go to the community pool, or take a nightly after dinner walk. Kids need a minimum of hour of daily physical activity. Play together with your kids a day. It's fun for them and fun for you too.
  • Purchase toys that encourage play
    • Hula hoop, jump rope, bike, pogo stick, or a ball are all samples of toys that children love. These toys are interactive and encourage fun movement.

Sleep

  • Quality sleep is crucial to forestall type 2 diabetes, obesity, injuries, poor mental state, and problems paying attention and behavior.. Children 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and youth 13-18 need 8-10 hours3. Insufficient sleep is related to obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and be less physically active.
    • To help your child with sleep, be sure to get physical activity throughout the day, reduce screen time, and enforce consistent bedtimes.

Reduce Screen Time

  • Adults and kids spend over 7 hours on a daily basis being sedentary, and this number doesn't include hours spent sleeping. Many of those hours include screen time with computers, phones, tablets, television, and video games. An excessive amount of screen time has health consequences: it’s related to poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades at school, and poor mental state in youth3.
    • Encourage no technology at mealtimes, charge devices at night outside of bedrooms, and set technology limits after school. For example, 1 hour of television a night.

Support As Parents

While it can be a stressful time for parents and children after diagnosis, it is important to remain positive as there are many options for treatment and risk reduction. 

To protect your child’s mental health and body positivity, the focus should be on overall health, not a certain weight goal6. Emphasis should not be placed on the number on the scale, rather the accomplishments made regarding health goals and movement goals.

Parents play a vital role in helping children feel loved and on top of things of their weight. benefit of each opportunity to create your child's self-esteem.

Discourage diet or weight talk when possible. Healthy eating should concentrate on sustainable lifestyle eating patterns instead of specializing in specific diets or restricted foods. Restricting whole food groups may lead to poor relationships with food later in life.

Lastly, be patient with the process! Muscle, tone, symptom management may change faster than the amount on the dimensions, however, all should be celebrated.

Main Takeaways

Due to the high prevalence of childhood obesity and therefore the possible long-term consequences, it's important for folks to know risks, prevention, and treatment options for his or her child.

As a parent, you have got a crucial role in maintaining a healthy diet and inspiring physical activity when possible.

Consult a healthcare professional if you're worried about risks for your child.

References:
  1. Childhood obesity - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed September 1, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827
  2. Sahoo K, Sahoo B, Choudhury AK, Sofi NY, Kumar R, Bhadoria AS. Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. J Fam Med Prim Care. 2015;4(2):187-192. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.154628
  3. Prevent Childhood Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 1, 2021. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/features/childhood-obesity/index.html
  4. Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408699/#ref18
  5. Moens E, Braet C, Bosmans G, Rosseel Y. Unfavourable family characteristics and their associations with childhood obesity: a cross-sectional study. Eur Eat Disord Rev J Eat Disord Assoc. 2009;17(4):315-323. doi:10.1002/erv.940
  6. National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month Tips. CRCHC. Published August 31, 2021. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://www.crchc.org/post/national-childhood-obesity-awareness-month-tips

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