Here’s a trivia question for you: What percentage of children today ages two through 19 are overweight or obese?
a. five percent
c. More than 30 percent
If you guessed c, you are right on target. The actual number today in the United States is 31.8 percent according to a widely reported study.
This statistic is astounding in itself but researchers also predict that at the current rate of growth of the obesity epidemic, nearly 100 percent of U.S. adults will be overweight by the year 2048!
What are the clinical definitions of overweight or obesity? Definitions are based on a concept known as BMI or body-mass index, which relates height to weight. Normal BMI is 18-25 and overweight is greater than 25. Obesity is a BMI over 30. To prevent our children from becoming a “BMI statistic” we must address the issue and prevent them from a lifetime of complications and obesity-related diseases.
Obesity is painful. Former obese individuals who were surveyed reported that they would rather be deaf, dyslexic, diabetic, have heart disease or suffer from bad acne than be obese again. Obese/overweight kids are bullied and have extremely poor self-esteem. Multiple medical conditions have become more prevalent in children and include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. There are possible cognitive changes related to obesity as well. Unfortunately, overweight kids can be seen as “lazy” or at fault for their condition when in fact the issue is complicated and multifactorial.
So what can be done? Prevention and treatment are crucial. Believe it or not, prevention of childhood obesity can start as early as the womb. For an expectant mother, having an unbalanced diet during pregnancy can be the cause of health-related issues later in life for the child. Breastfeeding is thought to decrease the risk of obesity in children as well. Certain childhood behaviors such as eating dinner together as a family, limited “screen” time and obtaining adequate sleep at night can reduce the likelihood of obesity by 40 percent. Daytime sleeping does not makeup for nighttime sleep. Get those kids to bed early!! Two additional and perhaps obvious preventive measures that are well-proven to be the most effective are maximizing unstructured play and limiting all sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice. Force your kids to play outside or inside, wherever and whenever they can. Encourage your kids to play before homework; it really is that important. Kids need two hours of physical activity per day!!
To stop the epidemic on a larger scale, we need to approach it from many angles. Of course, as with most public health problems, changes made at the highest levels can have the widest effects. Limiting marketing of high-calorie foods, portion-size control in restaurants and better school lunch programs in all schools are just a few ways institutions can change our current culture.
Finally, we come to treatment of those who are already overweight or obese. Perhaps the most effective approach is working closely with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD meets with a patient and makes a thorough initial assessment of the patient’s current nutritional status and eating patterns, and the many potential personal factors that influence these patterns. Exercise routines are also assessed. A personalized treatment plan is then constructed and an RD follows the patient regularly to make adjustments and to ensure adherence. With success, eventually comes a plan for maintenance. My own daughter recently lost 40 pounds with a careful and methodical weight-loss plan. I look forward to working with you and your children as well!
By Shara Paley, MS RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist