Small changes can make a big difference battling childhood obesity in Kentucky

Special to the Herald-LeaderJuly 20, 2013 

Dr. Robert Rettie is with Saint Joseph Pediatrics, part of KentuckyOne Health.

LEE P.THOMAS

Obesity occurs when a person's weight is greater than what is considered healthy for their height. This ratio can be determined by an individual's body mass index (BMI). Being overweight or obese can lead to a number of health concerns including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Nearly one third of all children are obese or overweight.

In Kentucky, the rates are even more alarming, topping 37 percent.

Conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure — all of which can be a result of obesity — not only threaten people's lives, but they also put a tremendous burden on our healthcare system. Additionally, obesity in children can contribute to things like acid reflux, sleep apnea, joint pain, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Unfortunately, our society makes it difficult to avoid gaining weight. Sugary drinks are omnipresent. Fresh foods, access to parks, and even in some neighborhoods, sidewalks, are not always available. Add that with a sedentary lifestyle and calorie-dense processed foods, and Americans have a recipe for weight gain. However, making one small change every month can make a difference.

Preventing childhood obesity is a family matter. Every family is different and should manage their health in a way that is appropriate to their bodies. Talking with a physician can help identify the positive and negative behaviors that impact the health and weight of your family.

Prevention is always the best medicine. Be sure to have your children's BMI screened early before a problem develops. While this measure is not perfect, it is helpful. Managing a child's weight early can help prevent long-term health problems, such as heart disease, that could begin to occur as early as his or her 20s or 30s for those who have been overweight during childhood.

A physician can help create a long-term plan to develop healthier eating habits and exercise. Even making just one or two small changes each month is significant.

It's important to allow older children to have a say in their health. Children under the age of 9 are dependent upon those around them. For those children, it's important for parents and caregivers to be the agents of change. For children older than 9, parents have the opportunity to foster positive choices and allow the child to create his or her own healthy lifestyle.

A great way to simplify the basics of a healthy lifestyle for kids is the 5-2-1-0 Rule. Following this, kids will:

■ Eat servings five fruits and vegetables a day

■ Limit screen time (television or computer) to no more than two hours a day

■ Get one hour of exercise each day

■ Drink zero sugary drinks

It takes time and patience to make family lifestyle changes and progress can seem slow, but in order to help an overweight child, the family must be on board and involved. When everyone is following the same guidelines, it sends a message that eating well and being active is important.

If you're concerned about the weight of your child, talk to your pediatrician and to develop a plan of action. If you eat healthy and exercise, you can be healthy. The goal is not necessarily to change the numbers, but to change the lifestyle.

For resources about managing the weight of your child, visit the Partnership for Fit Kentucky at Fitky.org.

Dr. Robert Rettie is with Saint Joseph Pediatrics, part of KentuckyOne Health.

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