Pediatric Health Talk: Creating a Healthy Lifestyle

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Obesity is a serious health concern for the youth in the United States. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity in children from ages 2-19 is 18.5 percent and affects around 13.7 million. Breaking the stat down further—obesity affects 13.9 percent of years 2 to 5, 18.4 percent of years 6 to 11, and 20.6 percent of years 12 to 19.

Science has determined that being an obese child puts one at greater risk of being an obese adult. As we age, obesity carries some serious health risks including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Like with many other issues, tackling obesity at an early age is vital to a good quality of life. Learning about proper nutrition and implementing physical activity into a child’s daily routine goes a long way to being healthy. “Most kids these days are eating junk foods, processed foods, and eating too many calories before bedtime. Just like adults, kids can’t take in the bulk of their calories before bed. This can lead to excess body fat and obesity,” says Dave Gluhareff of Train with Dave Fitness Training.

Obesity affects a child’s health in many ways. Physically, the weight can tax joints and bones. The possibility of chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes increases. From an emotional standpoint, obesity can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and social isolation.

Obesity is diagnosed by using the Body Mass Index (BMI) in children two-years old and above. BMI is calculated by using a child’s height and weight. The BMI reading is compared to others on CDC-approved growth chart. An obesity diagnosis comes if a child has a BMI greater than the 95th percentile of children the same age and sex.

It’s important to understand the difference between overweight and obese. If a child has a BMI greater than the 85th percentile but lesser than the 95th percentile, he is considered overweight. Obesity generally means too much body fat. With being overweight, there is excess body fat, but the weight could be related to bone, water, or muscle. Getting a correct diagnosis can be tricky in children because they grow at different rates. Discuss your concerns with your pediatrician during wellness checkups.

The best way to combat childhood obesity is to prevent it from happening. It begins with the parents’ lifestyle. Make learning about healthy nutrition a family event. Prepare and eat meals together as a family. Create a routine to encourage physical exercise.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has an obesity prevention program called the Active Living Initiative which suggest families follow a 5-2-1-0 rule. It breaks down to 5 fruits and vegetables a day, 2 hours or less of television, computer, and video games a day, 1 hour of physical activity a day, and 0 sugary drinks.

Get Moving

Screen time, such as television, tablets, and video games has made physical exercise less desirable to children. Inactivity can cause a multitude of problems. A 2017 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that type 1 and type 2 diabetes are increasing among youth in the United States. In 2012, the CDC estimated that one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Rising rates of being overweight and obesity are directly related to less active lifestyles and poor nutritional choices. Studies show that middle childhood and adolescence are periods that physical activity tends to decline among children. Parents need to be aware of the health effects physical inactivity and poor nutrition can have on children. Obesity is associated with high blood sugar, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint issues, social and psychological issues which can cause problems at home or at school.

The first step to setting a physical activity plan is to be a role model. Take a hard look at your nutrition and physical activity. Children tend to mirror their parents. If a parent isn’t leading a healthy lifestyle, there is a good chance the child isn’t as well.

Develop a fitness plan that works for the entire family. Incorporate activities such as walks through a park. Add geocaching to make it more of a treasure hunt. Find fun things to do with your children that provide an opportunity to get active as well educate. Try cooking together or gardening.

Organized sports like soccer, basketball, karate, and dance are excellent ways to introduce physical activity. Organized sports also provide good social building skills and introduce the benefits of teamwork. “Sports and recreation are vital in the growth process of youth. They are able to learn important life skills such as communication, teamwork, and overcoming adversity. It is also important that youth take part in sports and recreation because they are able to exercise and fight daily stresses, which helps combat childhood obesity,” says Travis Tarpley, Youth Fitness Coordinator at the Danville Family YMCA. Gregory Hairston, Sports and Wellness Director at the Y adds, “Through our programs we teach children important social skills, discipline, and healthy living.”

Creating a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and good nutrition at an early age will set your child up for lively adulthood. It also helps you feel better through your later years when your grandchild asks you to play catch or join her in the latest dance craze. Gluhareff adds, “Parents and guardians are ultimately responsible and have to make sure we lead our kids into healthy lifestyles. We also have to practice what we teach and lead by example.”