HEALTHY LIVING: Preventing childhood obesity

Childhood obesity rates in the United States have expanded right along with portion sizes and screen time, and all parents should be concerned according to medical officials.

“Childhood obesity is an increasing epidemic in the U.S. About one-third of children and adolescents are either overweight or obese,” said Capt. Jess Belling, chief of inpatient pediatrics at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.

Obese children have a greater risk of developing medical conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, and high cholesterol and lipids. Until recently, these were conditions typically associated with adults, but physicians are seeing more of these conditions in obese children, Belling said.

 “Several environmental factors have led to this obesity epidemic, including increased glycemic index of foods, sugary beverages, larger portion sizes, increased access and use of fast food services, diminished emphasis on Family meals, decreased physical activity and increased time watching TV, playing video games and computer usage,” Belling said.

These factors are creating unhealthy habits for an entire generation. Parents of slender children should also be concerned.

“Even if children currently have a healthy weight, poor habits that are formed now can lead to obesity in the future when metabolism can slow down. Unhealthy habits formed in childhood are also more likely to continue as children age,” Belling said. “The longer a child has a habit, the harder it is to break, which emphasizes the importance that good habits are solidified and maintained in childhood to prevent future medical complications of obesity.”

The best way to reduce the risk of obesity in Families is to maintain a healthy lifestyle that consists of a well-balanced diet, regular activity and quality sleep, Belling said.

Nutritionally, children should have three meals and two snacks per day. Meals should include a fruit and vegetable, a lean protein like chicken, eggs or turkey, a grain like bread, cereal, rice or pasta, and a serving of dairy, according to federal nutrition guidelines. Portion sizes also are an important consideration.

Regular activity is another element in preventing obesity. According to Belling, more children are living a sedentary lifestyle where they spend too much time seated. Playing outside, Family walks, participating in sports are ways to get children moving. Experts recommend that children and adults get 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Children can reach their goal by walking to school or the bus stop, playing at recess and outdoor play after school. Limiting screen time on electronic devices can help make more time for the outdoors.

Finally, sleep. Quality sleep is needed for children to fight off infections, support the healthy metabolism of sugar to prevent diabetes, and perform well in school.

 “We try to make being healthy fun for our girls,” said Kelly Hamrick, an Army spouse and mother to three children. Hamrick and her husband include their daughters in their fitness routines and meal preparation.

“They love cooking with us,” Hamrick said. “We talk about what food does for our body and that it gives us energy to do well in school, to play more and make us strong.”

According to Belling, these are the kinds of discussions and activities Families should use to instill healthy habits in their children.

“Children form habits very easily, and healthy habits that are formed now are more likely to stay with them as they get older,” Belling said.

Parents who would like to learn more about promoting a healthful lifestyle for their children can find resources online from the Army’s Performance Triad. The Performance Triad is an initiative to help Soldiers and Army Families live healthfully through good nutrition, quality sleep and regular physical activity. The site can help parents learn more about nutrition for children and Families, ways to incorporate more physical activity for busy Army Families and many other resources.

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