Childhood Obesity
Obesity in Children & Teenagers

Approximately 30% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight and 15% are obese. For adolescents ages 12 to 19,
30% are overweight and 15% are obese.

Excess weight in childhood and adolescence has been found to predict overweight in adults. Overweight children
with at least one overweight or obese parent were reported to have a 79% likelihood of overweight persisting into
adulthood.  

In addition to genetics, other factors contributing to obesity are:

Lack of regular exercise
Low family incomes and non-working parents
Consuming high-calorie foods
Eating when not hungr
Eating while watching TV or doing homework
Sedentary behavior (e.g., watching TV, sitting at the computer, playing video games)

Treatment of Childhood Obesity

1.        Physical Activity
Adopting a formal exercise program, or simply becoming more active, is valuable to burn fat, increase energy expenditure, and maintain lost weight. Most studies of children have not shown exercise to be a successful strategy
for weight loss unless coupled with another intervention, such as nutrition education or behavior modification.
However, exercise has additional health benefits. Even when children's body weight and fatness did not change
following 50 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week, blood lipid profiles and blood pressure did improve.

2.        Diet Management
Fasting or extreme caloric restriction is not advisable for children. Not only is this approach psychologically stressful,
but it may adversely affect growth and the child's perception of "normal" eating. Balanced diets with moderate caloric
restriction, especially reduced dietary fat, have been used successfully in treating obesity. Nutrition education may
be necessary. Diet management coupled with exercise is an effective treatment for childhood obesity.

3.        Behavior Modification
Many behavioral strategies used with adults have been successfully applied to children and adolescents: self-
monitoring and recording food intake and physical activity, slowing the rate of eating, limiting the time and place of
eating, and using rewards and incentives for desirable behaviors. Particularly effective are behaviorally based
treatments that include parents.

What parents can do:

  • Let your child know he or she is loved and appreciated whatever his or her weight
  • Focus on your child's health and positive qualities
  • Develop and implement a plan to gradually change your family's physical activity and eating habits
  • Let your child see you eating – and enjoying -- healthy foods and physical activity
  • Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment (e.g., swimming, biking, skating, ball
    sports)
  • Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities (e.g., watching TV, video games)
  • Reduce the amount of “junk food” you will allow in the house, instead plan for healthy snacks
  • Encourage your child to eat when hungry and to eat slowly
  • Eat meals together as a family as often as possible
  • Assign active chores to every family member such as vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn
  • Enroll your child in a structured activity that he or she enjoys (e.g., tennis, gymnastics, martial arts)
  • Encourage your kids to join a sports team at school or in your community
  • Don't place your child on a restrictive diet
  • Avoid the use of food as a reward
  • Avoid withholding food as punishment
  • Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugars (e.g., soft drinks, fruit juice
    drinks, and sports drinks)
  • Stock the refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Plan times when you prepare foods together
  • Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times
  • Avoid rushing to finish meals
  • Avoid serving large portions
  • Avoid forcing your child to eat if he/she is not hungry
  • Limit fast-food eating to no more than once per week

The Obesity Epidemic –

Of all the factors endangering youngster’s health, obesity is the one that jumps to the front of the line. It is the one
issue that is most out of control. Look around any school yard and you’ll see that the physical appearance of
children as a group has changed since you were in school. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that
the obesity rate among youngsters ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 25 years, going from 6.5
percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2006. Among adolescents ages 12 to 19, that rate has more than tripled, from 5
percent to 17.6 percent. These numbers say nothing about those youngsters who are not yet obese, but are clearly
overweight. No other health concern is exploding at such mind-numbing rates.

Why Rising Obesity Rates Are Such a Big Deal—

The media has done a good job of making us aware of the health risks associated with obesity. To quickly recap:
The Journal of Pediatrics recently found that an estimated 61 percent of obese young people have at least one
additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. The U.S. Surgeon General
adds that youngsters who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and
psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. These youngsters are more likely than
youngsters of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and are therefore more at risk for associated
adult health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancers and osteoarthritis. Yes, childhood
obesity is a big deal.

How Did Our Children Get So Overweight? –

There’s no doubt that diets loaded with non-nutritious, high-calorie foods are at the root of children weight problems.
Yet the amount of daily calories consumed by our youngsters has not increased so dramatically over the last 20
years to cause these double and triple rates. What has changed is the amount of daily activity. This has dropped
significantly over the last 20 years and may be the true culprit in this explosive health concern.

The National Institutes of Health just released the results of a long-term study of more than 800 youngsters. At age
9, the researchers tracked the participants daily activity levels with an accelerometer (a device that records
movement, which the youngsters wore on a belt). They evaluated their movements to see if the youngsters achieved
the minimum 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity recommended for youngsters by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human services. They then conducted follow-up tracking with these same youngsters at
ages 11, 12 and 15.

How would your children fare on such a test? Do they get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity over the
course of a day? If their daily habits mirror those of the children in this study, they probably do -- if they are between
the ages of 9 to 11 -- when 90 percent of the participating youngsters met the recommended level. But by age 15,
only 31 percent met the recommended level on weekdays, and a shockingly low 17 percent met the recommended
level on weekends. This drop in activity means that teens are taking in more calories each day than they are
expending through physical activity. That’s a recipe for excessive weight gain.

This drop in activity by our teens is largely due to the new electronic age in which we live. Unlike children of past
generations, our children can socialize, play, and explore their world without even getting out of bed. While
munching on high-calorie snacks, many spend their free time enjoying computerized social networks, video games,
DVDs and iPods. It’s a whole new world.

The Government’s Role in this National Health Problem –

Those government agencies charged with the welfare of our youngsters are aware of and deeply involved in this
crisis. The CDC, for example, has guidelines, resources, programs and websites for school and community leaders
to help them address the rising obesity problem. You can visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity
for links to articles such as Role of Schools in Addressing Childhood Obesity and Physical Activity: School and
Community Guidelines.

As a person who has dedicated his life to helping children get fit and healthy, I’m all for any help the government can
offer. I’d love to see local governments fund more bike and pedestrian paths so families can get around without a
car. I’m happy when schools offer our children healthy lunch choices. And I certainly want all schools to provide
more physical education and recreation time.

These solutions will require money, as well as changes in policy and philosophy—obstacles that will take time to
overcome. We can’t afford to wait for the government to implement programs to help control our children’s weight.
My hope for stopping the childhood obesity epidemic lies in the home—your home.

What Moms & dads Can Do in the Home –

You don’t need to hire a personal trainer, pay for a gym membership or wait for your child’s school to “do
something” to fight back against the obesity epidemic. You simply have to make the effort to get your children out
and moving. Why not start today by choosing one of the following activity starters and, as Nike says, just do it!

Household jobs: Give your children daily exercise and get those chores done at the same time. Every kid can help
vacuum, sweep, mow, and scrub around the house, and can also help wash the car, walk the dog and set the table.

Gifts: Looking for a holiday or birthday gift that keeps on giving? Head to the sporting goods section of your favorite
store and look for fun ways to get physical. Think: Pogo stick, stilts, indoor or outdoor croquet, hula hoop, Frisbee,
Twister, hopscotch, badminton set, and fishing pole. And of course, pick up the staples such as a basketball, soccer
ball, and/or football; bicycle, skates, tennis racquet, and lacrosse or field hockey stick.

Family outings: Family time is dwindling in American homes today as moms & dads spend more time at work and
children spend much of their free time plugged into electronic entertainment systems. Get the gang together and
fight obesity with family outings that get everybody moving on the weekends (the time, remember, when children’
activity levels tend to drop). What are your plans for this coming weekend? Why not include something active such
as visiting a zoo or a public park, walking around a nearby tourist attraction, or exploring nature trails (the National
Wildlife Federation has a site at www.greenhour.org to help you find a nature spot within 15 minutes of your home).

Vacations: When you plan your next family vacation, think about making it an active one. Look for places where your
children can swim at the beach or bike on a scenic trail. Maybe they’d like to hike or camp in the mountains or raft
down a river. You might also explore state and national parks or take a walking tour of a major city. There are many
ways you can use your vacation time to get your children up and moving.

Community service: Many moms & dads have found that being involved in service activities is the perfect way to
keep the family together and active while working toward a common goal. Look for opportunities where you might
plant flowers and shrubs around public buildings or parks, do litter patrol on a nearby road or in local streams, help
elderly neighbors mow or rake their yards, or clean up a town park. The possibilities for service to others are
endless, and many involve physical activity.

Plug in: In the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ category, there are ways to use electronic recreation to help children
stay active. Give your children a video camera and encourage them to make their own music videos, their own
reality show, their own “dancing with my friends” TV special, or their own nature trail travelogue – anything that gets
them up and moving! Nintendo’s Wii Sports lets children “play” tennis, baseball, golf, bowling and boxing while
mimicking the physical actions of swinging a racket, bat or club, rolling a ball down an alley; or pulling up the left jab.
The video sensation Guitar Hero also gets children up and moving as they “perform.” At the very least, try to rent
DVDs or video games from a store within in a mile of your home. Get your children in the habit of walking, skating, or
biking there and back (with you at their side if they’re too young to go it alone).

Taking it to the Next Step—

These activities can keep a child active and fit, but if your child is already struggling with weight gain, it may be time
for more proactive measures. Many youngsters need peer-support, structured programs and professional guidance
to change the habits that sabotage their weight-loss efforts. When that’s the case, you may want to consider a
weight-loss camp.

Many camps (like my own) offer state-of-the-art facilities to get children up and moving, a multitude of fun activities,
and opportunities for new friendships and renewed self-esteem. These camps teach children to understand why
they are heavier and how they can change. Even in the most difficult cases, when children get away from the
comforts of home and learn about nutrition, exercise and behavioral habits and combine that knowledge with a
mandatory healthy diet and active lifestyle, they will succeed. They will lose the weight and they will keep it off.