Obesity has affected us all in one way or another. Research shows that 24 percent of American children ages 2 to 5 are obese, and that 33 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight or obese. There has been a marked increase in health-related problems associated with youth obesity. Conditions such as elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, increased fatty tissue in the liver and Type II diabetes are now being seen at earlier ages.
Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to overweight or obese as adults. The life expectancy of this generation is lower, meaning that as a group they will die at an earlier age. Obesity costs an estimated $100 billion each year in health care dollars, with $61 billion spent in direct medical costs.
Many years ago, physical activity was the norm. Now, computers, televisions and the Internet have become part of daily life, resulting in a 25 percent decline in physical activity. The intake of soda and high-calorie snacks add many extra calories to the diet. The additional calories contribute to the increase in obesity. Factors such as genetics, socioeconomic status and parental influence are also factors in the increased waistlines of our youth.
In schools in Maine and across the U.S., opportunities for physical activity have declined. Lack of funding for physical education programs has led to some of these reductions, but recess time and organized physical activities also have decreased.
Ways to combat obesity in children
Increase physical activity. Exercise increases calorie expenditure in both adults and children. By getting moving you are burning extra calories, and that helps keep weight in check. Adding five hours of unstructured physical activity to the school week has been shown to significantly reduce obesity in children.
Make better food choices. Children’s diets are filled with high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat treats and beverages. Limiting or eliminating these drinks and snacks will help cut extra calories and reduce the risk of obesity.
Think before you eat. Parents’ behavior directly affects the choices their children make. Making smarter food choices at home will help your child eat a healthier diet outside of home. Try to prepare meals with more fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods and lean meats.
Trends in our society have made it easy for all of us to become overweight. Let us help our children become healthier and more productive adults by showing them the right way to eat and exercise.
Kevin DiDonato is a professional health educator and a certified personal trainer. His home-based business, Human Performance Lab in Ellsworth, provides private and semiprivate fitness training, nutrition counseling, boot camp training, and private or group pilates classes.