Food is one of life's necessities. Eating a variety of foods is a great source of nutrients, which give us energy, help repair body tissues and regulate body functions.
The relationship between the energy supplied by the nutrients ingested (or eaten) and the energy required by our activities is called energy balance. It is this balance that allows for weight maintenance.
When battling weight issues, food becomes both friend and foe — you cannot live without it, and living with it is a problem. Childhood habits, time constraints and the media are often the determining factors of our food choices. Behavior management techniques and nutritional guidance can help you learn to make better food choices.
Guiding children toward eating fewer high-calorie junk foods and encouraging physical activity are good ways to start helping kids achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Healthy weight is important even at a young age, because studies have shown that children who are overweight are more likely to become obese adults.
The "obesity epidemic" in the U.S. is real, among adults and children alike:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third (35.7%) of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older — more than 60 million people — are obese.
- Obesity is the No. 1 health problem of Americans, including children ages 6 to 11 and adolescents ages 12 to 17.
- The Centers for Disease Control reports that 31.8% of children and adolescents ages 2-19, are either overweight or obese (2009-2010).
- In the past 30 years, the number of overweight American children has more than doubled among 2- to 5-year-old children and more than tripled among 6- to 11-year-old children.
- Approximately 18.6% of boys and 15.0% of girls were obese.
- Being overweight increases the risks of diet-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, hypertension, sleep apnea and osteoporosis.
- Children who are overweight also often experience psychological stress, poor body image and low self-esteem.
- Long term, these issues give rise to economic hardships from rising health care costs, and even shortened life spans.
- Half of all Americans are on a diet at any given time.
- There are more than 30,000 diets on public record.
Encouraging healthy eating habits and incorporating exercise into daily routines may significantly reduce the risk for developing chronic diseases associated with obesity and being overweight.
Causes of Obesity
It is important to teach children the necessity for physical activity and nutritious food choices early and engage them in physical activities whenever possible.
Several factors can lead to obesity in children:
- Sedentary lifestyle -- Today's child spends more time watching TV and videos and playing video or computer games than participating in physical activities. The average school-aged child watches 26 hours of TV every week.
- Too much fat -- Children receive high percentages of energy from fat found in "junk foods" and high-calorie foods. Keeping fat intake at moderate levels without being too restrictive is important. Do not forbid foods; the secret to offering appropriate food choices is moderation. Balance high-fat choices with low-fat choices and offer kids a variety of foods.
- Television – TV is the largest media source of food advertising and can influence children's ideas about food and send mixed messages. Children see commercials for athletes eating at fast-food restaurants after a game. They watch child stars eat high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages as snacks and meals, and want to eat them in turn. TV viewing has been linked to low intake of grains, fruits and vegetables and higher intakes of high-fat meats.
- Lack of nutrition education -- Remember to share with your children the reasons to eat and drink certain foods and beverages. Explain how milk helps their bodies, the benefits of vitamins and nutrients to be gained from eating a variety of foods, and how diet contributes to a healthy lifestyle. If in doubt, ask the school nurse, family doctor or registered dieticians for help.
Body Mass Index
Body mass index (BMI) is one measure to identify obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight by the square of his or her height. In children and adolescents, obesity is defined as a BMI for age and gender at or above the 95th percentile. Visit Online Resources to find a link to calculate your child's BMI.