Children and weight: Tough subject for parents

I’m sure that this is not the first time you have heard this information: America’s kids are increasingly overweight. The news articles are everywhere talking about the growing number of kids who are medically classified as at risk for overweight. These articles talk about the suspected causes of this new epidemic and the ways to prevent it. This topic, however, is like a big pink elephant standing in the corner of the room: we all know it’s there, we can all see it, but nobody really wants to talk about it.
Unfortunately, this problem will not go away unless we do talk about it. And as the numbers continue to rise, it becomes increasing clear that the sooner we talk about it, the better.
So what do the numbers say? Well, for all age groups of children and adolescents the prevalence of child obesity has doubled or tripled since 1988. In 1988 just 5 percent of kids ages 2-5 were classified as overweight. In 2006 that number jumped to 12.4 percent. And while that increase may seem huge, it’s actually the smallest increase of all the age groups.
But those are just national numbers. We’re doing much better here in Rio Blanco County, right? Well, not exactly. Our 2008 numbers show that our region of Colorado is currently almost double the state average and nearly three times the Healthy People 2010 goal for at risk of overweight and overweight children. This isn’t just a national issue or a big city issue; it’s now become an issue in our own backyard.
So what’s the big deal about a few overweight kids? Well, actually, a lot. First, there are the health problems overweight kids are at risk for. The list includes heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma. They can also be at risk for sleep apnea which is a condition where they stop breathing for at least 10 seconds in their sleep. Children are also increasingly being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a condition that until recently, was considered an adult health problem.
Second, the psychosocial issues that can accompany childhood obesity can be very difficult for children to handle. What is meant by psychosocial problems? This simply means that these kids are often the target of teasing and bullying. Overweight children tend to report lower self-esteem which can cause problems in school and social performance. Many of these self-esteem issues follow kids into adulthood.
OK, so you say you know all the facts, but what is a parent to do? First, if you think that you’re child is overweight or at risk for being overweight make an appointment with your child’s’ healthcare provider. In rare cases obesity can be linked solely to genetic conditions.
Second, start with a few small lifestyle changes. You will be amazed at how big of a difference a few small changes can make. Start by looking at the amount of time your child is inactive during the day. Current recommendations are that a child should limit “TV time” to a maximum of two hours a day. If you’re child is at the maximum that will mean he is spending 730 hours or 30 days a year sitting in front of the TV. Parents should also be aware that this time includes your child’s total time of watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Internet.
Parents should encourage kids to substitute physical activities for TV time. Brisk walks, swimming, a game of tag — the possibilities are endless. When kids complain that there is nothing to do, send them outside to find something to do instead of letting them find something to watch on TV.
Another change that parents can make is in the foods that their child eats. Make sure that kids have plenty of healthy and nutritious snacks available and keep high-fat and high-sugar snacks out of the house. Now let me be very clear about this, I am not saying that todays kids should never eat cookies or cake. What I am saying is that these foods should be a special treat, not an everyday food.
Other small changes parents can make include:
n Change to low fat or skim milk if your child is older than 2 years of age. (Children between ages 1-2 should still be receiving whole milk to support growth and brain development.)
n Replace high-sugar drinks such as sodas with good old fashioned water.
n Whenever possible, purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for your family. If you do purchase canned fruit make sure you are buying the sugar free or light syrup variety
n Be aware of what a serving size is for your child’s age.
If parents are unsure about what their kids should be eating or what a serving size is for their child’s age group, there are many great resources online. The CDC Web site has many great links and resources for parents. Parents are also encouraged to contact us at Rio Blanco County Health with questions or concerns. Our WIC program has a lot of resources to help guide parents in making nutrition and exercise choices for their kids.
Also, don’t forget to contact Rio Blanco County BOCES to make an appointment for this years Childfind. This is a great opportunity to have your child’s health and development screened at no cost. To make an appointment for your child ages birth-5 contact BOCES at 675-2064 or 629-5004.

Kimberlee Long, RN, is director of Rio Blanco County Nursing Service.