PINE BLUFF, Ark. – September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a sobering reminder that one in five children in the U.S. is obese, Teresa Henson, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Extension specialist– nutrition outreach coordinator, said.
During the month, Arkansans can take some time to learn more about the causes of obesity in children, as well as some ways to encourage children to adopt healthy habits in regard to diet and exercise.
Childhood obesity can lead to health implications that are usually only seen in adults – type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. And the risk factors of childhood obesity go beyond the implications to children’s physical health.
“Children are likely to experience social isolation and psychological problems such as depression, low self-esteem and negative body image,” Henson said. “They are more likely to be bullied and teased than their peers who are at a healthy weight.”
It is very difficult for obese children to overcome their weight problem, she said. The health problems they face commonly persist into adulthood. Adult obesity puts individuals at risk of strokes, heart and liver disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.
Henson said factors that have an impact on childhood obesity include eating habits, genetic makeup, family history, and environmental, social and community factors.
Other factors that contribute to childhood obesity include:
* Too much screen time.
* Lack of sleep.
* Lack of access to affordable healthy foods.
Easy access to inexpensive, high-calorie foods and beverages.
Lack of places to get physical activity in the community.
“We all know there's no simple solution to the childhood obesity problem facing our nation,” Henson said. “However, communities, families, friends and educators must provide support to children in their journey to lead healthy lives.”
The CDC recommends the following tips to help ensure children have a healthy weight:
* Make sure children get at least 8 hours of sleep.
* Limit children’s screen time to 1 to 2 hours per day.
* Help ensure children get at least 1 hour of exercise per day. Take part in physical activity with your children, whether through age-appropriate activities, sports or exercising as a family.
* Provide nutritious, lower-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables in place of foods high in added sugars and solid fats. Try serving more fruit and vegetables at meals and as snacks. Act as a role model and eat the healthy foods you serve.
* Make sure drinking water is always available as a no-calorie alternative to sugary beverages. Limit juice intake.
* Have health care providers measure your child's weight, height and body mass index (BMI) regularly.
In their communities, individuals can:
* Learn about and get involved in ways to help shape a healthy school environment.
* Work with state and local health departments and business and community groups to ensure that neighborhoods have low-cost physical activity opportunities such as parks, trails and community centers.
* Arrange or refer families to breastfeeding services, nutrition education classes or childhood healthy-weight programs as necessary.
“We all must do our part to ensure that children are able to lead long, healthy lives,” Henson said. “Everyone has to be an advocate for healthier food and beverage options, along with access to physical activity for all children.”
For more information on childhood obesity and healthy weight, visit www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/ and www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/.