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Young Lives at Risk

Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and the statistics are alarming. It can lead to many serious health issues, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and pre-diabetes. Of greatest concern is that research shows one of every three children in the United States is now considered overweight. Health care professionals are working diligently to educate parents about what they can do to help their children get moving and eating right.

Being obese or overweight is determined by an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI), which uses height and weight to determine if a person is normal, underweight, overweight or obese. This is calculated by taking the child’s height in inches, multiplying that by itself and dividing that number into the child’s weight in pounds. Multiply that number by 703 and the result is the child’s BMI.

In adults, a BMI between 20 and 25 is ideal, 26 to 30 is overweight and greater than 30 is obese. For most children younger than 18 years of age, we use the graphs developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/basics.html. An ideal BMI for a youth is less than the 75th percentile.

While determining the causes of childhood obesity is complex, what studies have shown is simple: children are burning too few calories for the amount of calories they are consuming. And, the question is…why?

Heredity, watching television, nutrition and family influences all play a role in childhood obesity. For instance, if both parents are overweight, the children have a 75 percent chance of being obese. If one parent is obese, the probability is 25 to 50 percent. However, if parents change their eating habits, children are more likely to change their eating habits also. In fact, an obese child who is counseled by physicians and parents can develop a normal BMI and carry healthy eating habits into adulthood.

One of the biggest causes of childhood obesity is a sedentary lifestyle of watching television, surfing the web and playing video games–activities that don’t require much physical movement. It is estimated that American children who watch the most hours of television have the highest rate of obesity. Encourage your kids to get outside and play.

A healthy focus on nutrition is of vital importance in combating childhood obesity. Unfortunately, hectic work and school schedules–in addition to rising food costs–have resulted in a decline in healthy balanced meals, and a rise in fast food meals. It is important for parents to make healthy meals a priority and healthy foods easily available. Meal planning, reducing snacks and establishing an eating schedule for the whole family will help.

Children learn by example. Make healthy eating and regular exercise a part of your life, and they will probably follow. Make healthier food choices–instead of serving whole milk, opt for 2%, and then gradually switch to skim milk.

Childhood obesity is a societal problem influenced by what children are eating and how families are living. It’s a problem that can be dealt with today by making small but important changes.

Dr. Douglas Thrasher is Director of the Center for Family Medicine at Eisenhower’s George and Julia Argyros Health Center in La Quinta. The center can be reached at 760-773-1460.

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