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Keep children on healthy path to combat obesity

March 28, 2005|by Joy Triggs

Obesity is infecting our children like a spreading virus. One in five children are overweight, and the number is growing. According to the surgeon general, the prevalence of obesity has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Health-care issues and medical conditions previously occurring only in adults have become prevalent in children.

About 30 percent of those between ages 6 and 19 are overweight, and 15 percent of this age group is obese. The American Obesity Association recognizes a pediatric weight that falls above the 95th percentile as correlating to a BMI (body mass index, based on a ratio of weight and height) of 30. This is classified as obesity in adults. A child's weight that is above the 85th percentile correlates to a BMI of 25 to 30. A healthy BMI is 20 to 25.

Many medical conditions, including asthma, Type 2 diabetes, orthopedic complications, sleep apnea and psychological problems, and social stigmas are caused or complicated by obesity. Factors such as high cholesterol and hypertension, which increase the risk of developing heart disease, are occurring more in obese children than in those with a healthy weight.

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What makes these facts even more disheartening is that the Department of Health and Human Services informs us that overweight children have a 70-percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

Our society has become more sedentary.

So what can we do about it?

Have your children do a form of exercise while watch their favorite shows. Have them walk around the track at your local high school or ride their bicycles while socializing with their friends. There are many resources that can help you find physical activities that are fun for children. Start by contacting your local department of parks and recreation.

Next, pay attention to what your children are eating. Most of us have less time to prepare meals, so we are going for fast foods or prepackaged meals. Unfortunately, these are the foods that are the highest in fats and sodium and lowest on good nutrients.

One suggestion is to plan ahead for the following day's meals before time is a factor. The worst time to make food choices is when we are very hungry, because we go for the quick fix. If you have questions about what your children should be eating, ask your doctor to provide you with a list and resources. Remember that our children, just like the young of any animal species on this earth, learn how to choose foods by watching the choices adults make. It is a learned skill, just like talking.

Finally, if we are going to eliminate this health threat, we need to be recognizing and teaching our children that physical exercise and a healthy diet is as necessary to our health as brushing our teeth each day. We know that if you never brush your teeth, you can expect them to eventually decay and become useless. It just becomes more clear when we explain to our children that when you pair inactivity with a poor diet, our bodies will do the same thing.

Joy Triggs is a registered nurse and CFNP education specialist at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

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