As winter sets in, parents need to encourage children to remain active, the childhood obesity rate in Colorado is 27.2 percent
Colorado might be known nationally as the state with the lowest obesity rate, but the state’s childhood obesity rate is nothing to brag about.
The state’s childhood obesity ranking among 10- to- 17-year-olds is 36th in the nation, with 27.2 percent of children in that age group considered overweight or obese, according to the 2016 Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. With winter weather already underway in Moffat County, it’s an important time of year to prevent sedentary behaviors from becoming habit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 60 minutes of physical activity per day for children About 57 percent of the children in Colorado do not meet physical activity recommendations, according to the Colorado Child Health Survey. It’s important to note that children can get exercise in many ways, not just from what we’d consider formal exercise, said Dr. Kristie Yarmer, a pediatric physician at Memorial Regional Health.
“Many children during play will get 60 minutes of exercise per day just by being kids,” she said. “Limiting screen time and encouraging play outside will also help to achieve this. For older children and adolescents, going for walks together, hiking and biking can help fulfill this 60 minutes per day.”
Childhood obesity increases the risk for high blood pressure, breathing problems, joint and muscle pain. Obese children are also more likely to become obese adults, facing greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, according to Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Yarmer said childhood obesity can also cause gastrointestinal problems such as fatty liver disease, acid reflux and gall stones.
“Childhood obesity has also been associated with anxiety and depression, low self esteem and social problems such as bullying and feeling stigmatized,” she said.
Be role models
For parents worried about their children’s weight, nutrition and physical activity levels, one of the first steps to take is to look in the mirror. Yarmer said the entire family has to make changes together in order to be successful.
“When children have developed poor eating habits, just as in adults, this can take time to reverse,” Yarmer said.
Behaviors that influence excess weight gain include eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, not getting enough physical activity, sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices, medication use and sleep routines, Yarmer said. Parents who practice these habits have to make changes themselves if they’re going to be positive role models for their children.
“Children are more likely to meet fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations if their parents do and if their family eats meals together at least once a day,” according to the Colorado Child Health Survey.
Health experts recommend that in addition to an hour of physical activity per day, children need at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day, few to no sugar-sweetened beverages, two hours or less of screen time, and nine to 12 hours of sleep, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Parents have a responsibility to identify what foods are important for their children to eat and to know what constitutes an accurate portion size.
“Pack lunches with healthy food choices and water or low fat milk instead of a sugar drink,” Yarmer said. “For some children who have a difficult time with portion control, use snack size bags to help limit intake and keep healthy snack alternatives in the home such as air-popped popcorn, veggie sticks and fruits instead of snack foods that are higher in fat and sugar.”
Perhaps even more importantly, Yarmer said it’s important to avoid making negative comments about a child’s weight. Instead, she said parents should encourage a healthy lifestyle and model those choices as parents.