In the past four decades, obesity rates in the United States have soared among all age groups.
Childhood obesity has increased more than fourfold among those ages 6 to 11.
More than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic.
And this epidemic puts nearly one third of America’s children at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke - conditions usually associated with adulthood.
What are signs my child is “obese”?
Health experts at Yakima Valley Farm Workers say there are plenty that parents can do to fight and even prevent childhood obesity.
Briana Walker, a registered dietitian for the Yakima Valley clinic, says the first step is staying informed by finding out whether or not your child is in the healthy range for his or her height and weight.
An easy way to find out if your child is considered overweight or obese is to use a calculator, which can be found on-line at http://nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/Calculator.aspx, Walker said.
She said it’s a quick and simple tool to compare your child’s height and weight in relation to other kids their age. Many parents are surprised to learn about how their child’s weight stacks up.
Walker adds the on-line site is also a good tool to try if you are concerned that your child might be under weight.
In addition to looking up information on the web, Walker suggests parents speak with their family medical provider if they are concerned about their child’s health.
“Another great thing to do is bring up the subject with your child’s doctor and ask to see his/her growth charts, particularly the BMI/age graph,” she said.
What can I do to prevent obesity for my children?
Regardless of your child’s weight, there are many ways parents can teach their children healthy habits.
Healthy habits can start with a newborn child, says Walker, who works in a Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clinic in Yakima.
“WIC is a great source of information in helping to start your kids off at a healthy weight and with a healthy lifestyle right from birth. We really encourage parents to access WIC as a part of a healthy lifestyle for support in tracking their child’s weight and learning about fun tips for health,” Walker added.
Another facet of childhood health is the struggle with treats.
“One thing that many of us struggle with as parents is how often to give treats,” Walker said.
Treats include things like candy, chips, ice cream, cookies, French fries, chocolate milk, soda and much more.
“Try keeping track of these extras for a week and see what you notice, include treats that your kids grab for themselves and treats that other family members and caregivers offer,” Walker said.
Dieticians from the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic agree that if a child is getting a treat daily, setting a goal of three times per week is a great place to start. If a child is getting four treats per day, setting a goal of one per day is a huge step.
What kinds of diets are best?
“My favorite diet is the 5-2-1-0 Challenge. It’s a fun challenge for families to try together,” Walker added.
The 5-2-1-0 Challenge is simple. It recommends five or more servings of fruits and veggies per day, less than two hours of screen time (TV, video games and recreational computer time), at least one hour of physical activity per day and almost no sugary beverages.
Why is physical activity important?
“We all know that physical activity helps us to reach a healthy weight. Regular physical activity also helps kids to improve concentration in school, improve sleep and reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety,” Walker said.
The main goal, she said, is to get families talking about what they can do to help each other with the growing issue of obesity in children.