Childhood obesity is the most common chronic medical condition impacting about 12.7 million youth in our country. Pediatrician Jennifer Groos, MD, UnityPoint Health, says about one-third of the kids who walk through the doors at her clinic are overweight or obese. A child’s growth can put them at risk for diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver problems. But, there are simple things your families can do to prevent these diseases.
What Causes Childhood Obesity?
“It really is a complex condition. It’s so important to stress that blame can’t only be placed on the individual,” Dr. Groos says.
Here are some factors that play a role in a child’s weight:
- Socioeconomic factors (education, income, occupation)
- Environmental contributors (school environment, community environment)
- Community assets (availability of gyms, bike paths, playgrounds)
- Family & cultural traditions
- Individual choice
What’s the Difference Between Overweight & Obese?
“Overweight” and “obese” are both medical classifications based on the body mass index (BMI) measurement. Overweight classification is given if the BMI falls between the 85th and 94.5th percentile on the growth chart and obesity is determined if the BMI is over the 95th percentile.
“In children, BMI changes with age, so doctors use growth charts and percentile to determine a classification,” Dr. Groos says.
When Should I Be Concerned about My Child’s Weight?
Dr. Groos says there is growing evidence that the foundation of a person’s health begins during a mother’s pregnancy and a child’s first five years.
“Pregnancy is a critical period when the mother’s health and habits, including rate of weight gain, diet quality and level of activity, affect the developing baby,” Dr. Groos says.
During early years, Dr. Groos says young children develop an understanding of hunger and being full, establish food preference, build motor skills and capacities and establish sleep, activity and snacking patterns.
How Do I Teach & Practice Healthy Habits in My Home?
Think about living 5-2-1-0 in order to create a healthy environment for children.
- 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily
- 2 hours or less of recreational screen time
- 1 hour or more of activity
- 0 sugary drinks and more water
“This campaign really focuses on surrounding kids in an environment that makes the healthiest choice the easiest choice,” Dr. Groos says.
The goal of 5-2-1-0 is to change the focus away from weight and really think about a child’s long-term health by concentrating on healthy habits. Dr. Groos also identifies that focusing on healthy living isn’t just a priority for kids.
“It important to make sure everyone in the family is making changes to improve their health, and it’s not just the child alone who has to not eat the cookies that are in the cupboard. Rather, why is the cookie even there in the first place, since no one in the family should be eating it,” Dr. Groos says.
What If I’m Living 5-2-1-0 and My Child is Still an Unhealthy Weight?
Dr. Groos says talk to your health care provider and don’t get discouraged. She also points out that obesity is a complicated condition and many factors determine where a person falls on the growth chart. Providers can help families look at other things that might be contributing to their child’s unhealthy weight, like sleep, portion size, types of foods consumed and type and intensity of exercise. All of the healthy habits these children are developing will decrease their risk of associated health conditions even if you’re not yet seeing changes on the growth chart.
“It’s more the current status of the parents that’s more predictive of a child’s likelihood of being affected by overweight or obesity. Your child’s doctor is mostly concerned with the current environment the child is growing up in,” Dr. Groos says.
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