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Health Tips for Parents

2007 Issues

What should I know about obesity in children?


Childhood obesity has been called the most serious and prevalent nutritional disorder in the United States. According to UCLA pediatrician Mark Grossman, MD, overweight and obese children are likely to grow into overweight and obese adults, leading to a higher incidence of serious health issues. Parents can take steps to help their children lead healthier lives.

Overweight and Obese Children

With schools cutting physical education programs and many children spending their free time in front of a computer or TV screen, today’s children get less exercise than previous generations. This, coupled with the American lifestyle of “super-sized” high-calorie snacks and fast-food meals, has resulted in a national epidemic of childhood obesity.

Children are considered overweight if their body mass index (BMI), a calculation based on height and weight, is at or above the 85th percentile as compared with national statistics for children their age. A child with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese. A pediatrician can easily measure a child’s BMI during a routine office visit.  Parents may also choose to perform the calculations themselves; websites such as the Centers for Disease Control offer BMI calculators designed for children.

Health Consequences

Overweight and obese children often encounter serious emotional and physical consequences, including poor self-esteem and depression as a result of teasing and social discrimination.
The most alarming by-product of excess weight in recent years is a surge in Type 2 diabetes in children. This chronic condition affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Children with diabetes have a high bloodsugar level that significantly limits their body’s ability to replenish cells with energy. If not addressed, diabetes can lead to a lifetime of risk for heart disease and stroke, nerve disease, amputations, kidney disease and blindness.

Parents Can Help
Providehealthy food

According to Dr. Grossman, parents can make a significant impact on their child’s health. “They are, after all, the ones doing the purchasing, so it’s critical for them to choose the proper nutrition for their children," he notes. That means a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, in accordance with the federal government’s new Food Guide Pyramid. To meet a child’s significant nutritional needs, any weight-loss diet should be low in calories, not in essential nutrients. Additionally, parents may want to include their child in food-purchasing or food-preparation decisions, which can help educate them about making healthy food choices.

Get your child moving —
Dr. Grossman urges parents to switch off the TV and get children out of the house and active. Statistics show that about half of children ages 8 to 16 years spend three to five hours a day watching TV. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days.

Practice what you preach —
Parents must remember that they are their child’s first and greatest role models. When parents make an effort themselves to stay active and eat healthful foods, children get the message.

Parents who are worried about their child’s weight should make an appointment with the child’s doctor, who will review eating and exercise habits and make suggestions for a healthier lifestyle. He or she may conduct some screening tests for medical conditions associated with obesity

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare website at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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