Tackling Our Childhood Obesity Crisis
Karla Robinson, MD
Childhood obesity is a problem of epic proportions in the African American community. It is estimated that over 43% of African American children are overweight or obese and the numbers are rising. As parents, guardians, relatives, and community leaders there are steps that can be taken to help curb the rise of childhood obesity in this country and prevent the long term health consequences that can develop as a result.
Obesity is a huge health concern for children due to the increased risk of developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and respiratory difficulty at early ages. Studies show that poor dietary habits and excessive weight gain can cause kids to develop serious health problems that have traditionally been thought of as diseases of adulthood. The long-term effects on the body from having these types of diseases for so long can be quite damaging by the time these children reach early adulthood. Emotional health is also a concern for overweight kids. They can be the targets of bullying and social exclusion and often battle low self esteem.
The best way to prevent childhood obesity is by ensuring exercise and physical activity is a part of the daily routine of each child. Children should receive at least an hour each day of moderate physical activity. This would include activities like walking, running, dancing, jumping rope, and other sports activities. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight by balancing the amount of calories eaten with the amount of calories used through exercise, staying physically active has many other benefits for children. Regular physical activity helps to reduce stress, improve blood pressure, and strengthen the growing bones.
Making the appropriate dietary choices for children is essential in helping them maintain a healthy weight and preventing the rise of childhood obesity. Providing food options for kids that are nutritious, balanced, and that contain the appropriate number of calories needed for healthy bodies will become a lifestyle of healthy eating habits that they are likely to carry with them in adulthood when they are making their own food choices.
Listed below are some tips that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider helpful when trying to develop healthy eating habits in children.
- Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products
- Include low-fat, or non-fat milk or dairy products
- Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein
- Serve reasonably-sized portions
- Encourage your family to drink lots of water
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages
- Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat
- Look for ways to make favorite dishes healthier
- Remove calorie-rich temptations by allowing them in moderation as special treats
If your child is overweight or obese, never attempt weight loss unless directed by a physician. Often times for children the focus will be on developing a plan to slow the rate of weight gain through healthy habits and exercise, as opposed to encouraging rapid weight loss. Stressing the importance of healthy eating and encouraging exercise in childhood will not only help to reduce childhood obesity, but it is also a great way to reinforce the concept of loving ourselves, and taking caring of our bodies. This is a great lesson to learn as a child, but an even better life skill to practice as an adult.