The Playstation Generation – Combating Childhood Obesity

"It's not cool to be fat!"

America's youth are starting to become Willy Wonka's Umpa Lumpas. The obesity epidemic is especially evident in United States, where many people live sedentary lives and eat more convenience foods, which are typically high in calories and low in nutritional value. Children, on average, spend up to five to six hours a day involved in these sedentary activities. Perhaps it would not matter if they were insufficiently active at other times, but most of them are not. In just two decades, the prevalence of overweight doubled for US children ages 6 to 11 – and tripled for American teenagers. The annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about one-third of US children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. In total, about 25 million US children and adolescents are overweight or nearly overweight. This generation will now be the first generation to die before their parents if they are not careful. More and more reports are being published stating that American youth are obese. Childhood obesity is particularly troublesome because the extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The major health threat is the early development of Type 2 diabetes (adult onset), particularly in children with a family history of the disease. Doctors are reporting a surge in young adolescents developing Type 2 diabetes – which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, limb amputations, and blindness. People who develop diabetes in adolescence face a diminished quality of life and shortened life span, particularly if the disease progresses untreated. It's a scary prospect for our children but, in many cases, obesity and diabetes are preventable.

THE SOLUTION

If a weight-loss program is necessary, involve the whole family in healthy habits so your child does not feel singled out. You can encourage healthy eating by serving more fruits and vegetables and buying fewer sodas and high-calorie, high-fat snack foods. Physical activity can also help your child overcome obesity or being overweight. Kids need about 60 minutes each day. Obese children need to learn to listen to their internal cues of hunger and appetite. Parents and childcare providers must help them do so. This includes encouraging children to eat according to these cues, while acknowledging the emotional aspect of feeding and eating. A restrictive diet may make the child feel deprived and neglected, and exacerbate the overeating problem.

Maintain weight. A goal of weight maintenance versus weight loss depends on age, baseline BMI percentile, and whether the child has any medical complications because of obesity (such as hypertension and high cholesterol).

Encourage physical activity. Children should take part in at least 60 minutes of age- and developmentally-specific activities every day. Activity periods should last 10 to 15 minutes or more and include a range of intensities (moderate to vivid). Children should engage in a variety of physical activities of various levels of intensity.

For best success, all family members should participate in the increased activity. Physically active parents and siblings serve as role models. They also provide good company for bike rides, walks or swims. Physical activity should be fun and make children feel good, not a chore they must do to lose weight.

The Centers for Disease Control have recommended that schools establish policies that promote enjoyable, lifelong physical activity among young people. Their guidelines state, "Physical education should emphasize skills for lifetimes physical activities (eg, dance, strength training, and jogging, swimming, bicycling, cross-country skiing, walking, and hiking) rather than those for competitive sports." These experts also recommend that fitness-enhancing physical activities become an integral part of the American family's lifestyle.