The Solution for Childhood Obesity Starts at Home

The Solution for Childhood Obesity Starts at Home

What do 8.9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds, 17.5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. have in common? Aside from big worries that sooner or later Sponge Bob Squarepants will get canceled and a love of all things digital, those are the numbers of obese American kids. A total of 12.7 million! (Many more are overweight.)

Overweight & Obese Kids Are Risky Business: Being overweight or obese as a child comes with a roster of adult-sounding health woes that could make Americans’ declining longevity accelerate dramatically. Obese children risk cardiovascular damage and heart disease, asthma, joint and muscle problems, emotional distress, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.

Heart Risks: In fact, 60 percent of overweight and obese kids have at least one cardiovascular risk factor: high blood pressure, elevated lousy LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, or elevated insulin levels. And 20 percent have two or more! The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005–2006 found that the pre-diabetes rate of overweight adolescents was 2.6 times higher than those with normal weight. Prediabetes and diabetes are both huge risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and stroke, not to mention premature cognitive dysfunction and death.

Asthma: A meta-analysis found overweight and obese children have a 40 to 50 percent increased risk of developing asthma.

Sleep Apnea: Reports indicate up to 60 percent of obese kids suffer from this condition, which puts them at risk for everything from respiratory distress to high blood pressure, a-fib and emotional disturbances.

Psychosocial Risks: The Millennium Cohort Study indicates childhood obesity may trigger emotional and behavioral problems from a young age, especially for boys. And a recent study from the UK found that kids who gained excess weight were likely to have irregular bedtimes and skip breakfast. By age 11, the overweight kids began to have emotional problems, trouble with their peers, and low self-esteem. After that, in pre-teen years, they were far more likely to use alcohol and smoke cigarettes.  

Muscle and Bone/Joint Problems: Multiple studies show that overweight kids have all kinds of foot, ankle, leg and knee problems, leading to sedentary behavior and more weight gain.

All Grown Up and Then What? That is a list of what’s afflicting overweight and obese kids—but health hazards increase as they get older. Think about it: Being overweight/obese during childhood leads to overweight/obesity as an adult, and the duration of obesity-related diseases is increased by one to two decades. That makes adult health problems hit sooner and harder. 

What Can You Do?
If you have a child who is overweight or obese, you can change his or her future, if you take a few simple steps—and stick with them. Turns out that childhood obesity is a family issue and one that can only be managed if the whole family participates in upgrading lifestyle habits.

  • Set a schedule and establish some rules. Have regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and playtimes. It does a body good!
  • Upgrade your nutritional habits. Have your kids shop with you at the grocery store (take a shopping list and stick to it) and ask them to help cook dinners (when kids make a veggie they’re more likely to eat it!). Then sit down together and enjoy—no TV, no phones!
  • Need help figuring out what you can cook that’s healthy, affordable and relatively easy? Google “Cleveland Clinic Recipes” for a list of everything from beverages to side dishes, entrées and desserts. Or for quick and healthy choices , Google “Dr. Oz 30 Minute Meals.”
  • Get movin’. Start a family walking program (check out for routines). Begin with 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after dinner; longer on weekends. Make time to play with your kids, throwing a ball, rollerblading, swimming—just get to it. Kids need at least 90 minutes a day of activity and so do you!

Medically reviewed in December 2018.

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