In February 2010, the First Lady Michelle Obama launched the national campaign against childhood obesity called “Lets Move”, which is a comprehensive and coordinated initiative to combat childhood obesity from Harlem to Hollywood. The fact that the 1st Lady of the United States has taken on the obesity problem, underscores the dire situation many children are facing today.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC, childhood obesity, which is the result of caloric imbalance i.e. too few calories used up in comparison to intake, has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children age 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% to 19.6% in 2008 and among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5% to 18%!
Why the increase? What are the risk factors?
Well there are several reasons – more families dine out or purchase fast food more than in the past due in part to busy schedules. In general, children and adolescents are eating more food away from home, drinking more sugar-sweetened drinks, and snacking more frequently. Convenience has become the main stay, leading more and more people to consume ‘away-from-home’ quick service or restaurant meals or to buy ready-to-eat, low cost, quickly accessible meals to prepare at home. Another more or less obvious reason is the increase in portion size especially in fast food outlets. Also children are spending more time watching television, using the computer and playing video games thus occupying a large percentage of the child’s leisure time, which influences their physical activity levels.
“…25 percent of their (children’s) waking hours watching television and statistically, children who watch the most hours of television have the highest incidence of obesity.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that children in the United States are spending 25 percent of their waking hours watching television and statistically, children who watch the most hours of television have the highest incidence of obesity. Naturally children will be more prone to be overweight if their diet consists of high calorie food such as fast foods and “junk food” such as potato chips, sweets or soda or if they do not exercise. Additional risk factors include family history; a child is more inclined to be overweight or obese if other family members are overweight or if the groceries purchased for the home consists primarily of high calorie foods. Also children, just like adults, turn to food when they are under stress of if they are emotional eaters.
How does it hurt?
Childhood obesity can lead to a myriad of problems especially if obesity extends into adult life. Some of the physical complications include type II diabetes (an increasing number of teenager have this type of diabetes), high blood pressure, bone and joint disorders, respiratory problems such as asthma. They may suffer from a sleep disorder called sleep apnea which is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. It most commonly occurs when the throat collapses during sleep causing the child to snort and gasp for breath. Overweight and obesity is a common cause of sleep apnea. Children may incur early onset of puberty or menstruation because fat cells are hormonally active. In addition, these children and adolescents may become more susceptible to skin infections due to moisture such as sweat trapped in skin folds. Obese children are also more prone to fatigue which can result in poor academic achievements. Emotionally, these kids are likely to be teased or bullied. This can lead to poor self esteem which can then lead to behavioral and/or learning difficulties.
Unfortunately, most kids do not outgrow their weight problem and as a result obesity leads to the following in adulthood: high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, heart and liver disease.
What can be done to prevent this?
Of course genetics can play a part and there is nothing we can do about what is passed down from generation to generation. However, childhood obesity occurs in large part to today’s eating habits and the amount of physical activity incorporated in the day. Prevention can be broken down into two parts:
Healthy eating habits: Incorporate fruits and vegetables and lots of WATER into the diet. The more fruits, vegetables and water a child intake, the less of an appetite they will have for sweets and junk foods. Decrease the amount of juice your child drinks. Sodas, processed fruit juice contain lots of sugar and empty calories. We recommend one 8 oz glass a juice a day. Make sure your child has breakfast every morning and limit the number of times you eat out, especially at fast-food restaurants, however if you do, take note of the nutritional information such as calories on the menu. This will assist you in making the right menu choices especially when you notice that many of the menu options are high in fat and calories. More importantly, do not buy nor keep cookies, potato chips and other fast or junk foods in your home. If it is present, everyone in the household will consume them especially your children. Even as a doctor, my favorite foods consists of the types that are bad for me like fried foods and sweets like cookies and cake. However I do not buy and keep them in my home. If I have a craving for a piece of cake or a bag of chips, I’ll buy a small bag or one serving snack size and that usually keeps me days or weeks. I do not recommend denying yourself totally of the foods you or your family enjoys, but to limit the amount in the diet and to consume them in moderation. Most importantly, healthy eating should be a family endeavor, not just something aimed at the kids. It is not fair when one member in the household is forced to make changes while other family members remain status quo. Make it a family affair.
Physical Activity: Try to get one hour of physical activity a day and this does not have to be a consecutive hours. Choose activities that are enjoyable and that the entire family can enjoy. It’s a great way for the family to spend time together. Any type of activity (with the emphasis on activity not exercise), counts such as bowling and swimming as well as easy to access toys such as hula hoops and jump ropes which can be used in any space including an apartment. The activity does not have to be structured, activities such as hide and seek and tag are great for burning calories and improving fitness. Make time for exercise, some children are so overscheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise. In Harlem there are various places where children can participate in fitness activities.
Here’s afew of the places :
- Boys Club http://www.harlembgc.org
- Swimming pools at Marcus Garvey Park, Central Park on 110 Street and Riverbank
- The Police Athletic League (PAL) http://www.palnyc.org/800-PAL-4KIDS/Center.aspx?id=23
- The YMCA of Harlem http://www.ymcanyc.org/index.php?id=3189
- Harlem figure Skating http://www.figureskatinginharlem.org
- Harlem Little League
- Harlem Knight Football
- Harlem Lanes Bowling
In addition to increase in physical activity, turn off the TV, computer games or the computer itself. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, and computers and video games, each day, use the free time for more physical activities. Parents encourage physical activity in the school. In many schools, physical education is no longer mandatory. Work with school officials and insist that physical education be reinstituted in the school, if it is no longer available.
There is probably nothing more dangerous to our health than our present eating and exercise habits. Small changes can yield significant results over time and make for lifetime changes. The current trend is reversible if we make a conscious effort and investment in healthy eating habits and exercise.