Managing Obesity and Cholesterol in Kids
If you are concerned about your child's weight, you are in good company. According to Samuel S. Gidding, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Virtua-duPont, "Childhood obesity is a serious problem. Over the past 20 years, the number of children who are overweight has increased by more than 50 percent and the number of extremely overweight children has nearly doubled. About 25 to 30 percent of school-age children in the United States are overweight or obese, which puts them at a high risk for heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma, orthopedic problems, hypertension and other health problems."
Obesity is a condition of excess weight, which puts a person at health risk. Defined as an excess of body fat, obesity is the result of a body's inability to balance calorie intake and energy expenditure. (Weight is evaluated by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and a patient's risk factors for disease and conditions associated with obesity.)
According to Dr. Gidding, poor eating habits and inactivity are the root causes of childhood obesity. A family history of obesity may also increase a child's risk of becoming obese, especially if both the parents are overweight. In addition, the high level of fat and calories in the average United States diet combined with the inactive lifestyle of many children is contributing to the dramatic increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity. "In today's fast-paced society, foods with higher fat are easier to access as many families tend to eat out or eat on the run, often eating foods in larger portions with a higher caloric intake," says Dr. Gidding.
"Many parents worry about whether their children are at an unhealthy weight," says Dr. Gidding. "One way to know for sure is to check with your child's doctor, who will determine if your child is above the ideal weight for their height and age. A child usually is obese when they are significantly over ideal body weight for their height. In general, if a child's weight is 20 percent or more in excess of the expected weight for a given height, a child is mildly obese. More than 30 percent above ideal weight is severe obesity. Additional ways to determine childhood obesity include the measurement of skinfold thickness, bioelectrical impedance and whole-body densitometry."
Dr. Gidding recommends that if a child is more than 40 percent overweight, a physician or registered dietitian guided weight loss program may be suggested to modify the child's eating behaviors, rather than just restricting calories. "During the course of the program, the emphasis should be on adopting a healthier lifestyle for the long term, not just on losing weight now, explains Dr. Gidding. "Children are developing physically and mentally, and they need adequate nutrition as they grow. Combining a healthy well-balanced diet with exercise is the best way to achieve healthy levels of body fat. By setting reasonable goals, weight maintenance should be achieved before weight loss is contemplated."
Although rapid growth and weight gain are part of puberty and adolescence, Dr. Gidding explains that many children and teens become overweight because of too many calories and too little exercise. "If your child or teen tends to sit around and watch television or play video games, try gently introducing more physical activities into your family life whether in an organized sport or individual pursuit," suggests Dr. Gidding. "Take a walk together or go for a bike ride. Make good nutrition and exercise a family affair by planning lower fat meals, nutritious snacks and family activities."
One of the most important
strategies of preventing childhood obesity is to provide adequate nutrition
for growth and development. Dr. Gidding reminds parents to take a look at
their own eating habits to see if they are setting a good example. "Family
involvement is encouraged in identifying eating habits, exercise and
lifestyle patterns that can be modified through nutrition counseling and
behavior techniques," says Dr. Gidding. "Eliminate unhealthy foods from your
household rather than singling out your child and prohibiting her from
eating them; keep healthy snacks in a place where your child can easily get
to them; limit television and computer time and make time to exercise with
your child. Exercise is the simple thing that you can do to lower your
cholesterol and blood pressure and make you feel better."