Nutritionist Weighs in on Childhood Obesity

“WARNING: Drinking Monster-sized Soft Drinks May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”

If there were a health warning printed on every super-sized soft drink, as there is on cigarette packages, maybe more people would think twice before buying them for children.

“Many parents of obese children don’t seem to believe their child has an eating problem, or is even overweight,” explained Cynthia Harington, a nationally recognized nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in healthcare and wellness. Harington, founder of Rose Quest Nutrition Centre with offices in Chicago and Mishawaka, Indiana, works directly with clients seeking improved quality of life through proper eating.

“Too many parents buy their kids super-sized soft drinks and snacks bursting with calories without giving a second thought to potential health hazards,” Harrington explained.  While they might consider someone else’s kid obese, they often describe their own obese child as ‘stocky’ or ‘still having their baby fat,’ not seeming to recognize the same issue in their own family.”

Childhood obesity is widely acknowledged as an extremely serious problem. According to the United States Center of Disease Control (CDC), “Since 1980, the percentage of obese children aged 6 to 11 has doubled, and the percentage of obese children 12 to 19 has tripled. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term serious health impacts.” The CDC report goes on to say these health concerns include type 2 diabetes (once thought to affect only adults), increased risk of heart disease, and greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem.

“We need to understand how we got to this point and, more importantly, how to correct it,” said Harington, who has seen a remarkable increase in childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes in our “super-sized” era. “Our first goal is to help parents recognize the signs of childhood obesity and the risks involved. Then, we want to teach them ways to improve their families’ health.”

Is my child obese?

Obesity means having too much body fat.  According to the University of Michigan Health System, “A child is obese if their weight is more than 20% higher than the ideal weight for a boy or girl of their age and height.”  Most health professionals agree that the child’s doctor is the best person to determine whether a child is obese.

Program for healthy weight control

The CDC reports, “Good eating habits and regular physical activity are critical for maintaining a healthy weight. Unfortunately, less than 25% of adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables each day. Sixty-four percent of high school students don’t meet currently recommended levels of physical activity.”

Harrington explained, “Everyone who makes food buying decisions for themselves and their families needs to choose responsibly in order to help control childhood obesity. Parents need to learn more about the foods on the market, the effects they have, and the healthful alternatives available.”

Five Guidelines for a Healthier Weight

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. For optimal health, enjoy a variety of fruits and veggies every day along with the other foods recommended by the USDA - see mypyramid.gov. Choose organic fruits and vegetables to avoid potentially harmful pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  2. Cut back on regular soft drinks and watch out for sugared fruit drinks. Choose a healthy alternative like safe water from a reliable source.
  3. Choose appropriate food portion sizes – choosing a portion larger than your body requires can result in overstuffing, waste, or both.
  4. Walk more often.  Many parents have gotten in the habit of driving their kids everywhere. Encouraging them to walk can help them maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Avoid munching while watching TV. Many overweight children and adults find that they want to eat while they watch TV or work on the computer.  Try to have your family eat meals together, without the TV.

There are many more ways to help kids lose weight and then learn to maintain it. Let’s think about the time before super-sizing when we didn’t drive our kids everywhere, when there were no monster-sized soft drinks, less emphasis on fast food, and not so many super-sized kids.

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