Memorial Regional Health: Fight childhood obesity with smarter nutrition, more physical activity
More than 18 percent of American children are obese, putting them at greater risk of facing a lifetime of obesity and its many negative consequences. In Colorado, more than 27 percent of children are considered overweight or obese.
Overall obesity rates remain higher than they were a generation ago, but the rise in rates has “slowed in recent years following decades of sharp increases starting in the early 1970s,” according to The 2018 State of Obesity report, citing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
“Children who are overweight or have obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. As such, targeting interventions that will help families and young children have access to healthy, affordable foods and safe places for physical activity is a promising strategy for addressing America’s obesity epidemic,” the report says. “Like adults, most children in the United States are not eating enough nutritious foods or getting sufficient physical activity.”
One of the best interventions parents can use to encourage better habits is to lead by example. This includes limiting any sort of screen time and removing screens from the bedroom and kitchen, said Kevin Monahan, pediatric physician assistant at Memorial Regional Health.
“Encourage any sort of activity that involves movement — team sports, going to a park, playground, walking/biking, dog walking,” Monahan said. “Ideally, aim for 60 minutes of exercise daily, but any movement, in my mind, is good movement.”
Genetics play a role in a child’s weight and overall body structure, but not so much so that obesity can’t be prevented, he added.
“It is best if the whole family incorporate healthy eating habits and exercising,” he said.
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.
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.
“Encourage five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” Monahan said. “Push water, and limit sugar-laden drinks, like juices and sodas. Decrease high-calorie snacks.”
Promoting good sleeps habits can also help, Monahan said. Nine to 10 hours of sleep per night can decrease the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Childhood obesity increases the risk for high blood pressure, breathing problems, and 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. Some experts believe childhood obesity can also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as fatty liver disease, acid reflux, and gallstones. Childhood obesity has also been associated with anxiety and depression, low self esteem and social problems, such as bullying and feeling stigmatized.