Preventing kids from becoming overweight means making choices in the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together. Helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example.
Obesity puts kids at risk for medical problems that can affect their health now and in the future. These include serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all once considered adult diseases.
Overweight and obese kids are also at risk for:
Cardiovascular risk factors (including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes) that develop in childhood can lead to heart disease, heart failure, and stroke in adulthood. Preventing or treating overweight and obesity in kids may help protect them from these problems as they get older.
Obese kids also might have emotional issues to deal with (such as low self-esteem), and may be teased, bullied, or rejected by peers. Kids who are unhappy with their weight can be at risk for:
Body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight measurements to estimate a person's body fat. But calculating BMI on your own can be complicated. An easier way is to use a BMI calculator.
On a standard BMI chart, kids ages 2 to 19 fall into one of four categories:
For kids younger than 2 years old, doctors use weight-for-length charts instead of BMI to determine how a baby's weight compares with his or her length. Any child under 2 who falls at or above the 95th percentile may be considered overweight.
BMI is not a perfect measure of body fat and can be misleading in some cases. For example, a muscular person may have a high BMI without being overweight (extra muscle adds to body weight but not fatness). Also, BMI might be hard to interpret during puberty when kids have periods of fast growth. Remember, BMI is usually a good indicator of body fat, but it's not a direct measurement.
If you're worried, take your child or teen to see the doctor. The doctor will ask about eating and activity habits and make suggestions on how to make positive changes. The doctor also may order blood tests to look for some of the medical problems associated with obesity.
Depending on your child's BMI (or weight-for-length measurement) and health, the doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian or a weight management program.
A number of things contribute to a person becoming overweight. Diet habits, lack of exercise, genetics, or a combination of these can be involved. In some instances, too much weight gain may be due to an endocrine problem, genetic
Much of what we eat is quick and easy from fat-filled fast food to processed and prepackaged meals. Daily schedules are so busy that there's little time to make healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, in the home and out, are too large.
Plus, modern life is sedentary. Kids spend more time playing with electronic devices than actively playing outside. Kids who watch TV more than 4 hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less. And kids who have a TV in the bedroom also are more likely to be overweight.
Many kids don't get enough physical activity. Older kids and teens should get 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, including
Genetics can play a role in what kids weigh. Our genes help determine body type and how the body stores and burns fat. But genes alone can't explain the current obesity crisis. Because both genes and habits are passed down from one generation to the next, multiple members of a family may struggle with weight.
People in the same family tend to have similar eating patterns, levels of physical activity, and attitudes toward being overweight. A child's chances of being overweight increase if one or both parent is overweight or obese.
The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair. Get your kids involved by letting them help you plan and prepare healthy meals. Take them along when you go grocery shopping. Teach them how to make good food choices.
Try to avoid these common traps:
Additional recommendations for kids of all ages:
Talk to kids about the importance of eating well and being active. Be a role model by eating well, exercising regularly, and building healthy habits into your own daily life. Make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone.
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Overweight and Obesity (for Parents)
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