NOTE: The following is an excerpt from TeleVox’s Healthy World report, “The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Poor Health Habits Threaten the Future of America’s Youth”, which exposes the need for more interaction between doctors and parents to combat childhood obesity. Download it HERE!
There are many factors, both positive and negative, that can influence a child’s life. These influences range from ads they see on television to their favorite professional athletes. But, ultimately, parents and caregivers are the most influential people in a child’s life. With this in mind, the habits that parents have are likely to be the same habits their children develop. These actions affect children in all aspects of life, including their exercise and eating habits.
Unfortunately, according to The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Poor Health Habits Threaten the Future of America’s Youth, this is where many parents are not making the grade. While nearly nine out of ten healthcare providers (88 percent) feel their patients could do a better job of managing their children’s weight, just a quarter of parents (23 percent) said that they are worried about their child being or becoming overweight. Additionally, just under a third of parents (32 percent) said that their children could benefit from losing weight right now. Sadly, more than two-thirds of American parents (68 percent) believe that childhood obesity is a significant problem in the U.S. These statistics are alarming because while parents admit to seeing a growth toward obesity among American youth, few parents are concerned with their own children’s weight. This also means parents are less likely to make changes necessary to help their children.
The Center for Disease Control reports that the terms overweight and obese are the results of a “caloric imbalance,” where too few calories are expended in relation to the amount of calories consumed. The CDC also reported that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The spike in childhood obesity rates is a trend that leads to higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, and bone and joint problems. Additionally, The Partnership for a Healthier America — a nonprofit group that brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end childhood obesity — reports that childhood obesity trends could mean that for the first time in history, American children may face a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
What is Causing the Problem?
While there is a large discrepancy between healthcare providers and parents in the concern over childhood obesity, there is agreement on the cause of obesity: Both healthcare providers and parents agree that poor diet and exercise habits are leading to the decline of our youth’s health. The Childhood Obesity Epidemic found that 97 percent of healthcare providers and 89 percent of parents believe that poor diet and exercise, and not genetics, are the biggest causes of childhood obesity. Coupling the increase of meals on-the-go in our fast-paced, convenience-driven society with sedentary lifestyles that result in part from advancements in technology, it is no surprise that obesity is a growing problem.
Tips for Fighting Obesity
Helpguide.org, a non-profit resource that aims to help Americans resolve health challenges, provides a series of tips to help parents and their families fight obesity, starting at home:
- Get the whole family involved. The best way to fight a battle is with a team. Set a positive example starting with the top of the hierarchy and blend it through the entire family, encouraging everyone else to buy into the healthy lifestyle.
- Encourage healthy eating habits. Make breakfast a priority, cut back on fat, eat dinner at the dinner table and limit dining out. These healthy eating “traditions” will encourage a lifetime of healthy eating.
- Be smart about snacks and sweets. Skip out on soda, fatty lunch meats and ice cream, but keep fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products and fat-free frozen yogurt on hand in a refrigerator or pantry.
- Watch portion sizes. Use smaller dishes, read food labels, and downsize orders when eating out. Each of these will allow you to retrain your appetite and avoid oversized servings.
- Get your kids moving. Play active indoor games, get outside with your child, do chores together, or enroll in sports and activities.
- Reduce screen time. Limit the amount of time children spend in front of a screen — watching television, playing video games, and surfing the internet. Encourage children to develop new hobbies that steer clear of the screens.
- Get involved. Talk to your children, know what is being served in the lunch programs at school, spend time with your children and overcome busy schedules. If children see their parents maintaining healthy lifestyle habits, they will be more likely to successfully follow them.
Following these tips can encourage a healthy lifestyle, but keeping in touch with healthcare providers between check-ups should also be at the top of the list. According to The Childhood Obesity Epidemic, 53 percent of parents said they would be interested in and/or happy to receive personalized communication from their children’s doctor between office visits. Additionally, 31 percent of American parents said personalized communications from their children’s doctor between office visits would help them better manage their children’s weight.
How Providers Can Help
Healthcare professionals can help to shine light on the causes of childhood obesity, as well as solutions to aid in reversing and preventing the disease—a common struggle for many Americans. As reported by The Childhood Obesity Epidemic, more than four in ten Americans (42 percent) feel that the lack of education for children about healthy foods is the biggest cause of obesity. Additionally, 34 percent of parents are concerned about their children’s unhealthy eating habits. Still, too many parents have not taken the steps of communicating with healthcare providers to alter this growing trend.
The Impact of Fast Food
One of the biggest problems reported in The Childhood Obesity Epidemic by American parents is that it has become common for families to eat meals from fast food restaurants. With the on-the-go lifestyle so many Americans live, the quicker the meal, the better. Many times this means pulling through a drive-thru between practices and PTA meetings. In fact, the average American child eats five fast food meals per month, and more than a fifth of American parents (21 percent) said that their children eat fast food about twice per week.
And while this is a quickly becoming the norm, nearly four in ten Americans (39 percent) said that not eating enough healthy foods is the biggest cause of obesity. Because of the lack of healthy options available at fast food restaurants, increased consumption among children is likely to only further increase childhood obesity rates.
Parents need to take an active role in altering the lifestyles of their children. As The Childhood Obesity Epidemic reported, a third (34 percent) of American parents are currently concerned about their children’s unhealthy eating habits, and 32 percent of parents said their child could benefit from losing weight right now. By making a conscious effort and taking an active role, parents can encourage healthier children and a healthier future.