With nearly one in three children in the United States being overweight or obese, now is the time to support the health of our next generation. First let’s get informed or as the kids say, “schooled!”

What does obese mean?

Means a child is more than 20% over their ideal weight, which considers the child’s height, age, sex and build.

What does overweight mean?

Means a child is above a weight that is considered normal and healthy by a medical doctor. Being overweight as child could lead to obesity as an adult or could be the well-known “awkward stage” called puberty.  I will address this later in the blog.

Consequences of Childhood Obesity:

Obese and overweight children are at risk for a number of serious health problems such as:

Diabetes: Type 2: Diabetes was once called adult-onset diabetes. Now with the rise in childhood obesity, there is a dramatic rise in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes. Untreated, this can be a life-threatening condition.

Asthma: Extra weight can make it harder to breath and can inflame the respiratory tract. There is a rise in childhood asthma, and children with serious asthma are more likely to be overweight.

Heart Failure: Being overweight makes the heart work harder. Overweight children are more likely to grow up to be overweight adults who develop heart problems.

Bullying: No one that has attended grade school is surprised by this fact. What is surprising, however, is that obese children are bullied more often even if they possess good social skills and a great sense of humor. Even students who come from wealthy households suffer from bullying.  Other students and adults can do this bullying.

Depression: traditionally depression and obesity have been compartmentalized as separate physical and emotional conditions but evidence suggests common pathways between them. Obesity and depression are diagnosed differently in children compared to adults. If a child has changes in sleep, appetite or psychomotor activity, an adult should take them to see a doctor to see if these changes are due to depression, not just a physical cause.

Why Childhood Obesity Now? What Changed? What Happened?

I grew up in Southern California in the 80’s. When I get in my DeLorean DMC-12, I didn’t see a lot of over weight kids. In fact, I remember roller blading until the streetlights came on, and my mom shouted at me to get my tush inside. I would sit down to a dinner of green beans, some type of meat, and Dad’s mashed potatoes from a bag. It wasn’t what I wanted or liked. The meal wasn’t perfect, but it was healthy. (My dog sure liked it.)

So what happen in the generations to come? There is no single reason for the rise in childhood obesity, but there are a number of contributing factors:

Television and Media: Screen time is a major factor contributing to childhood obesity. It takes away from the time children spend being physically active, leading to increased snacking in front of the TV. It provides constant influences on children with advertisements for unhealthy foods.

Marketing: The psychology behind marketing food products to kids is influenced by colors and fun friendly sounds and activities. It’s easy to show these advertisements on the screen. Hence its impact is number one for promoting unhealthy eating habits!

Lack of Daily Physical Activity: Apparently streetlights go on really early for this generation! Most adolescents fall short of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation of at least 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity each day. Only 18% of students in grades 9—12 met this recommendation in 2009. Daily, quality physical education in school can help students meet the guidelines. However, in 2015, only 33% of students had access to and attended daily physical education classes.

Increased Portion Sizes:  Portion sizes of less healthy foods and beverages have increased over time in restaurants, grocery stores, and vending machines. Research shows that children eat more without realizing it, if they are served larger portions. This means that they are consuming a lot of extra calories, especially when eating kid friendly high-calorie foods.

Limited Access to Healthy Affordable Foods: Some people have less access to stores and supermarkets that sell healthy, affordable food such as fruits and vegetables, especially in rural, low-income neighborhoods. Unfortunately, it is more expensive to buy healthy food than canned or frozen items. Natural and organic items in this country are grossly over priced. This is a tragic struggle.

Make Health a Cool Habit:

Be a Role Model: If you eat right and value your nutrition, your kid will too, with encouragement. You are the most influential person in your child’s life. Say positive things about your own body. Let your eating habits be the example. Encourage a child you love to choose a balanced lifestyle while avoiding extremes.

Get Moving: Physical activity is an essential part to being healthy and having fun. Get creative with it! Don’t make it a chore! Play with your kid. (I believe they still sell roller blades.)

Make Healthy Food Choices: So here is a fun tip. Eat the rainbow. Kids love color and fruits and veggies come in an array fun shapes and colors. Have fun with eating healthy. Use the Internet for ideas. Guide children in making their own healthy snack and lunch selections. (Don’t take the easy way out for a school lunch and deliver McDonald’s.)

Teach Moderation: Moderation and reasonableness are key to creating balance with both nutrition and exercise. Encourage our youth to listen to their bodies.

Lastly I want to discuss, “The Awkward Stage” aka pre teen puberty. Did you know that children can gain anywhere from 5-40 pounds between major growth spurts? Appetite increases and often kids become heavier before their height takes off. The extra weight gain can concern parents and even the kid. Should it?

It depends says, licensed therapist and certified eating disorder specialist Rebecca Cooper. “Today kids watch TV and play computer games instead of playing sports or being active. They are exposed to highly processed sugar-dense foods instead of foods without labels. It is normal for adolescents to gain weight before their growth spurt, but some kids are put on a diet that sets them up to disregard their appetite signals. Without a strong sense of self, they are easily persuaded by media and friends to obsess about changing their weight. These behaviors are the breeding ground for eating disorders. By making a few changes early in life, we can help our children avoid going down this path.”

With the health and wellness of the future generations at stake. Society has indeed become saturated with extreme forms of thinking, leaving little room for the promotion and practice of my new but good friends, MODERATION and BALANCE. Yes, learning to delay gratification (Road Less Traveled, a great book for parents) for something more enduring later has been a powerful practice in my food recovery. That doesn’t mean if I eat all my veggies then I get cake. It means if I eat mindfully and with balance then I am feeding my body for the future as well. When I do eat cake, it is done with a purpose and in moderation.