Life has undoubtedly become faster-paced and more stressful in the last few decades. This has affected everyone in different ways, but alarmingly, over the last 30 years, the percentage of overweight and obese children in the U.S. has tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some might think that a heavier child will “grow out of it,” but the CDC finds that obese children are five times as likely as normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults. In addition, children, adolescents and young adults are developing obesity-related health issues that were once rarely seen in young people, such as type 2 diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

Growing up is hard anyway and having serious health conditions only makes it more difficult.

The National Institutes of Health states that being overweight or obese is one of the most common reasons that children and adolescents are teased and excluded from groups at school. Yet, opportunities for physical activity are shrinking, with less free play and physical education in schools, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Studies indicate that active, healthy students are better learners. Research also shows that risky behaviors among the young, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary behaviors, as well as tobacco use, alcohol use and other drug use, are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment.

The obesity epidemic has become a major threat to every child’s ability to achieve their full potential and pursue their life’s dreams.

The CDC lists multiple factors that contribute to childhood obesity, including:

  • Genetics
  • Metabolism
  • Eating and physical activity behaviors
  • Skipping breakfast
  • Portion sizes that are too large
  • Not enough sleep
  • Negative childhood events
  • Community and neighborhood design and safety

Some things, such as genetics, obviously can’t be changed, but most of the other factors can be addressed and improved upon. Parents and caregivers have an important role in helping children reach and maintain a healthy weight.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than half of U.S. children are not getting the recommended amount of weekly physical activity. In fact, five percent of American children are getting little to no daily activity. Current recommendations for children ages 5 to 18 are for 60 minutes of daily activity, 7 days a week. The AAP study also showed that primary school children are getting the least amount of weekly activity compared to older age groups, and overall, females are less active than males. The AAP recommends that exercise should be considered a “vital sign” of health, and activity levels should be included in the conversation families have with their healthcare providers.

Early childhood physical activity is a vital part of developing strength, balance and motor skills that are needed throughout life.

Increasing physical activity and decreasing screen time helps children lose weight and stay fit. Taking walks, riding bikes, jumping rope, playing with the family dog, throwing a ball or frisbee, or even just marching in place, are some simple ways to sneak in an hour of exercise per day. It can be done in short bursts rather than all at once – as long as it all adds up to enough movement throughout the day.

There are new fitness apps to encourage children to be more active, although they are new and as yet unproven. Some parents welcome such tech support, while others think it may be too intrusive.

Improving nutrition in children is a huge factor – such as making sure children eat a nutritious breakfast and offering fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods for meals and snacks. Strive for not having unhealthy food items in the home, such as chips, packaged cookies and candy and sweetened cereals. Nutritious snacks include popcorn, celery with peanut butter, string cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and fruit. Limiting sugary beverages, including fruit juices, and drinking more water, cuts calories and helps the body maintain needed fluid levels.

Valley Health upholds the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that health organizations should take a “team approach” to combat childhood obesity. Valley Health’s integrated care model includes the parents or guardians, along with Pediatric and Family Medicine providers and the Pediatric Behavioral Health Specialists, to address a variety of concerns that affect the health and well-being of children. Working with the child and family, Valley Health providers strive to establish healthy habits during childhood that will hopefully continue into adulthood.

Valley Health providers consider childhood obesity to be a serious issue. Our caregivers work with families on an individual action plan for each child, which includes measuring their height, weight and body mass index routinely to track progress. Valley Health providers recommend recipes for making delicious, healthy snacks and meals for the whole family that are not expensive and are quick to prepare. Behavioral Health Specialists talk with the child and family about setting goals, feeling positive and changing habits. We’re here to support and assist families to make changes to help children to be healthier and more active.

Valley Health – Southside welcomes new patients Monday through Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and on Fridays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. To schedule an appointment, please call 304-529-0645.