Kentucky has the second-highest rate of overweight and obese children in the nation. Thirty-eight percent of all young people aged 10 to 17 and half of Kentucky's children in poor families are overweight or obese. This is not merely a cosmetic problem: the physical, social and emotional consequences of childhood obesity are severe. Children who are obese are at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathing problems, sleep disorders, joint disease, behavior problems, low self-esteem and depression. They are also more likely to grow into overweight or obese adults, who are at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers, depression and reproductive health problems.
It's much easier to address a weight problem in childhood than in adulthood. This is why parents need to be proactive in monitoring children's weight and developing healthy eating and lifestyle habits for the family. Small changes in the lifestyle of a child can have a big impact on weight, health status and habits for years to come.
A balanced diet, no "extra" calories, and plenty of water and activity are key to healthy weight. Here are a few tips to support healthy weight for children (and the whole family).
Know the weight status of your child. At each doctor's visit, ask if the child is at a healthy weight. If not, ask for help and request a follow-up appointment to discuss weight.
Ensure that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily and make it fun!
Limit "screen time" to less than two hours daily.
Be sure that children have three balanced meals a day with protein, dietary fiber, fruits and veggies.
Make sure portion sizes are age appropriate. Children don't need to eat as much as their parents.
Keep it simple with drinks — no more than two cups of low-fat milk per day, lots of water, no soda, and limit or eliminate juice. Eat the fruit instead.
Buy more "real food" and less processed foods. Read nutrition labels to know what you and your children are consuming.
Don't keep junk food or "extra calories" in the house — even for parents.
Pack lunches and eat breakfast at home.
Save treats for special occasions, and consume them in moderation.
Swap unhealthy items for healthy ones, like fruit-based smoothies instead of ice cream.
Foster a positive attitude about food — involve your child in grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking.
Dr. Aurelia Radulescu is the Medical Director of the Pediatric High BMI Diagnostic Clinic at the University of Kentucky.