What can I do for my overweight teenager without making them overly self conscious?

Curbing Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing issue in America and many times your child may be eating away from home. Whether your child or teen eats in the school cafeteria or packs lunch from home, establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits is more than just a matter of good nutrition - it is critically important to lifelong health and avoiding chronic disease. Childhood obesity is creating a nation of overweight youth, and a generation battling chronic weight-related diseases traditionally seen only in older adults.

Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today, approximately 17 percent, or 12.5 million, of children and adolescents ages 2 - 19 years old are obese - triple the rate from just one generation ago. "Overweight" is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile through the 95th percentile, and "obese" is defined as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.

Being overweight has detrimental effects on a child's self esteem, leading to a poor self-image, depression, social discrimination, unhealthy eating habits and possibly, eating disorders. In addition to the social stigma of being overweight, the health risks for children are significant.

Numerous industry studies have shown overweight or obese children will battle this condition for life, and those who have weight problems as children will be more severely overweight or obese as adults. Being overweight or obese also puts children at risk for a variety of harmful and detrimental health conditions. Many children and youth are being diagnosed as early as their teen years with these chronic conditions:

• High blood pressure

• High cholesterol

• Type 2 diabetes

• Breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma

• Joint problems

• Gallstones

• Heartburn and GERD

• Kidney disease

Studies show that nearly 70 percent of obese children between ages 5 and 10 have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and nearly 30 percent had two or more heart disease risk factors.

The causes of childhood obesity are very basic: children eating too many calories and not getting sufficient exercise. The prevalence of sugary soft drinks, fast food and high-fat processed foods in the American diet, larger portion sizes, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles - including excessive television and video time - are primary factors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity each day for children, yet only 18 percent of students in grades 9 - 12 meet this recommendation, according to the CDC.

Health providers, nutritionists, and educators are working together to reverse the trend. Start at home by modeling healthy eating habits, making good nutritional choices, and limiting television and video time. Instead, engaging in physical activity as a family such as walking together or going for a bike ride.

About the Author: Paul Afek, M.D. is a Family Medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians. His office phone is 744-2441

Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org; Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, www.cdc.gov; The Obesity Society, www.obesity.org.





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