Health experts have long been concerned about childhood obesity, but the latest research shows there may be an even greater cause to worry. According to researchers from the Nemours Children’s Clinic, “the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start very early in childhood.”
The study found that obesity can cause blood abnormalities that make children more likely to develop heart disease in early adulthood.
Other studies have found that higher body weight in children contributes to the stiffing of the arteries, a major cardiovascular risk factor. Children are also more and more likely to develop conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol — conditions that are typically linked to obese adults. In fact, many obese children have cardiovascular systems that look more like they belong to a middle-aged adult.
It is frightening to think at such a young age many children are already battling conditions that usually surface decades later. And it isn’t just a small group of children — about 32 percent of children and teens are considered obese or overweight.
Given the risks, parents need to be very proactive in helping their children develop and maintain healthy habits.
The first step is to find out if your child has a problem. Every year your pediatrician should calculate a BMI for your child. This will give you an objective look at whether or not your child is struggling with a weight problem. Obesity is a serious medical condition; don’t be afraid to bring it up with your pediatrician.
Whether or not your child is overweight, it is a good idea to incorporate healthy eating and regular exercise into your family culture. Beginning at a very young age, teach your children to follow their hunger cues. If your children are no longer hungry, don’t force them to finish everything on their plate. Plan meals and snacks that have a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and calcium-rich foods. Avoid sugar and fat, but don’t eliminate them completely. A child who is never allowed the occasional treat might be more likely to sneak them or overeat outside of the home.
Food should not be used as a crutch and sweets should never be used to reward good behavior, punish bad behavior, or distract a hurt or upset child. Limit your child’s time in front of the TV. Children should not watch TV or play video games more than two hours a day.
Children often learn more from our actions than our words. Assess your own eating habits and make sure that you aren’t inadvertently teaching bad habits to your child.
We all want our children to life long, happy, and healthy lives. Teaching them how to stay healthy now will go a long way towards that goal.