Obesity is a crisis across our nation. As children continue to consume foods high in fat, sugar, and calories we see an ongoing rise in the obesity rate among children and teens. When you couple diet with a sedentary lifestyle, the problem only worsens. The CDC estimates 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 to 19 were classified as obese in 2015-2016. This number has almost tripled in the past 50 years.
What is obesity?
The CDC defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts. Genetics and behaviors that influence excess weight gain, include:
- Consuming high-calorie, low-nutrient food, and beverages
- Oversized portions
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive sedentary activities (TV, computers, video games, phones)
COVID-19 & Childhood Obesity
The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the barriers to combating childhood obesity. With many children attending school virtually, sports activities being canceled, and playdates postponed, children are moving around less than they were before the pandemic. School and play provide valuable movement time which often isn’t replaced as students are at home.
Some of the best ways to get your child moving despite the looming pandemic protocols is to:
- Schedule 30 minutes of outdoor play a day.
- Plan nightly walks around your neighborhood.
- Add a virtual workout video to their at-home school routine.
- Attend virtual fitness classes with their friends or peers.
- Encourage outdoor play, even if it includes exercises in your backyard.
- Write out a daily meal schedule that is high in fruits, vegetables and protein and low in added sugars, high amounts of starch or empty calories and carbohydrates.
Health Concerns Linked to Childhood Obesity
Recognizing, mitigating the risk of, and treating childhood obesity is critical to the overall health of your child as they grow. Obesity can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, cancers, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Mental health can also be affected greatly with the onset of obesity in children, causing children to feel shame for their bodies, experience low self-esteem, and often develop disorders such as depression, anxiety, and deep feelings of loneliness or exclusion from their peers, which can lead to the onset of eating disorders later into their teen years.
Various parts of the body can be affected by the diagnosis of obesity in children. Some of the most common diagnoses that coincide with childhood obesity are:
- Hip pain that can lead to Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis caused by weakness in the growth plate from bearing extra weight.
- Knee pain that can come from deformities in the joint caused by excess weight.
- Poor posture in both sitting and standing positions.
- A disproportionately sized belly that protrudes from the body.
- Gait irregularities.
- Breathing issues such as asthma or sleep apnea.
- Fatty liver disease
- Gallstones and gallbladder issues.
How you can help your child fight childhood obesity
As the parent, the responsibility for combating childhood obesity lies most directly with you. There are ways to help your child maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity throughout their childhood years. Whether your child is currently diagnosed with obesity or a healthy weight, there are certain ways to mitigate the risk or eliminate the diagnosis altogether.
- Consume a healthy, balanced meal low in calories, added sugars, and fats.
- Eat whole-grain foods, high in fiber and vitamins.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables with each meal.
- Plan out 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
- Spend time outside as a family.
- Discuss the importance of healthy eating with your family often.
- Reduce screen time.
- Increase water intake.
- Work directly with your child’s pediatricians to come up with the best plan for your child’s individual needs.
- Consume foods high in calories, added sugars, salts or high fats, such as cookies, cakes, sweets, high-sugar cereals, candy, white bread, or chips.
- Eat foods labeled, “low fat” or “fat-free.”
- Drink high-sugar beverages like soda, juice, or sports drinks.
- Allow your child to spend hours on screens, games, or watching television.
- Avoid exercise or limit physical activity to when it’s convenient for your schedule.
- Eat fast food as your regular meal option.
- Support a more sedentary lifestyle.
It takes a family to support a healthy lifestyle for your child. Encourage your child to spend less time on screens and more time outdoors enjoying physical activities. Eat together as a family as much as you can, focusing on foods that are healthy nutrients for your body. Avoid overconsuming foods that are high in fats, sugars, salts, and calories. Communicate with your child often about the risk factors of obesity for your family and ways that you can work together to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle, even during a global pandemic.
The information in this article was provided by Action Physical Therapy:
Alina Fish, PT
- Alina is the co-founder of Action Physical Therapy. Alina specializes in orthopedics, manual therapy, and pelvic floor rehabilitation and has over 20 years of clinical experience. Alina teaches various classes on a wide range of topics including women’s health and musculoskeletal issues. She runs the Community Education programs and is also a member of the American Physical Therapy Association.
- In her spare time, Alina enjoys photography and interior design.
Kimberly Le, DPT
- Kim was born and raised in Souderton, PA. Early on, she developed a passion for running and athletics. After overcoming her own dietary restrictions, she knew she wanted to be an advocate for others on their own personal health journeys. Kim recently graduated from Temple University’s 3+3 Accelerated DPT Program in May 2020 earning both a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 6 years. She currently has training through the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute. She wants to continue raising more awareness for pelvic floor dysfunctions and empower males and females with these dysfunctions to live their best lives.
- Outside of Action Physical Therapy, Kim loves long runs or hikes, yoga, Pilates, and painting.