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Vital Signs

Spring 2007

Childhood Obesity Can Lead to Serious Adult Diseases

As more and more American children eat fast-food lunches, spend limited time exercising in school, consume high-calorie snacks and sit at home for hours staring at a TV, computer or video box instead of playing outside, the problem of childhood obesity grows.

“It clearly is an epidemic,” says Mark Grossman, M.D., UCLA pediatrician in Brentwood. Childhood obesity has been characterized as the most serious and prevalent nutritional disorder in the nation. Children are classified as overweight if their body mass index (BMI), a calculation based on height and weight, is at or above the 85th percentile for children their age in the United States, and obese if the BMI is at or above the 95th percentile. A pediatrician can easily measure a child’s BMI during a routine office visit.

The numbers are alarming, “and it is important for parents to note that obesity in childhood often translates into obesity as an adult,” Dr. Grossman says. “And that leads to higher incidences of health issues like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.” Parents can have a significant impact on their children’s health, Dr. Grossman says. “It’s critical for parents to choose the proper nutrition for their children,” he observes. That means a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and offering the full Recommended Dietary Allowances of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

In addition, encourage as much physical activity as possible. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days. Finally, switch off the television to get children out of the house and active. Dr. Grossman says, “Limiting the amount of television a child watches is one of the best things a parent can do.”

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