The alarms are sounding – and not the ones heard on your child’s video game.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, according to the Center for Disease Control. More than one third of today’s children younger than 12 are considered overweight or obese.
Not only are these children at risk for heart disease and diabetes in their adult lives, chances are their health is at risk today, the CDC points out. The American Health Association says that childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents – topping drug abuse and smoking.
In Johnson County, 11.5 percent of children ages 2 to 4 who participate in federally funding health and nutrition programs are considered obese.
Poor eating habits and lack of activity are the primary culprits of the excessive weight among American children. Federal health officials are so concerned about the dangerous trends of childhood obesity, they launched (along with promotion by First Lady Michelle Obama), a national Let’s Move program.
Local schools and health nonprofit organizations also are addressing the issue on a wider scale.
As a parent, what can you do to make certain your children are not overweight and at risk for immediate or long-term healthcare problems? Here are a few tips from the American Association of Pediatrics:
Start at the grocery store. Before buying a food item, check the sugar levels. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, candy and high-calorie snacks – especially those that are heavily marketed toward children.
Be selective for special events. Cupcakes and other treats for a birthday celebration won’t harm your child. But purchase them shortly before the event and remove them immediately afterwards – to avoid ongoing expectations of having them at home.
Put healthy foods and beverages in plain sight. Water, fruits, vegetables and other low-calorie snacks should be readily available for children to select. Put these on the kitchen counter or on the front shelf of the refrigerator.
Hide high-calorie foods. Wrap them in foil rather than clear wrap and place them in a high spot or back area of the refrigerator.
Make healthy servings a priority (and fun). Encourage your children to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Keep score. Make a game out of it. Provide a prize (not a sugary snack) for achieving that goal each week.
Limit television and other media. Watching TV shows and playing on the computer (or iPad) doesn’t burn many calories. Produce and post a schedule of equal parts play and media time. Besides limiting calories, children need to burn them off running or playing.
Make them get plenty of rest. Research shows that children who sleep less than nine hours per day are more likely to be overweight. A good night’s sleep resets the body, improves overall health and burns calories.
Whatever you do, make the changes gradual, and make it a positive experience. You are addressing a lifestyle – and your children need to understand the importance of a positive approach to their health.