The increasing number of children who are overweight or obese is a growing concern for parents and caretakers. While healthy eating and exercise has become a national topic of conversation, it’s important that the potential social and medical problems many of these children face be a part of that discussion as well.
More than “baby fat”
It’s a common assumption that heavier children might lose some of their roundness as they grow up, but many children do not outgrow their tendency to be overweight. Heavy kids generally grow up to be heavy adults and, more importantly, overweight children have many of the same health risks involved with extra weight that adults do, including:
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease
- Higher risk for diabetes, liver disease, gallstones and esophageal reflux
- Pain and other joint problems
- Decreased coordination/dexterity
- Higher risk for social and psychological problems due to bullying
A pediatrician can help determine a healthy weight for your child and advise you how to help your child meet that goal weight. Other goals may include increased strength, decreased percentage of body fat, reduced anxiety, and improved aerobic fitness and physical activity level. A physical therapist may be able to help with some of these goals as well.
Ditch the screen and sugar, lose the pounds
Increased screen time (smartphones, tablets, television, video games and computers) is one of the modern factors contributing to increased weight in today’s kids since, generally, time spent on devices is time spent sedentary. It is recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, both cardio and strength-based. Limiting screen time and replacing those video games with activity trackers can motivate kids to be more active. The best way to get and keep kids active is to help them find a physical activity that they like and will stick with, rather than forcing them into an activity they’ll work to avoid.
Diets high in sugar and processed foods are also a major factor in the obesity epidemic. Gradually removing sugary drinks, including fruit juices, and switching to healthier alternatives can make a big difference. Increasing choices for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables can also replace some of the processed foods your child may be eating. You may find the help of a nutritionist beneficial as you and your child create new, healthier meal plans.
Small lifestyle changes can add up to a big difference over time. Turn off the screens, try some new foods or cook together, get out and play with your kids—and have fun while you’re at it!
Author: Tanya Fuller
Tanya Fuller is a physical therapist at St. Elizabeth rehab at Midway, and works primarily with infants and children with neurological or orthopedic conditions. She also provides care to newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). For more than 20 years, she has enjoyed identifying and addressing the unique needs of each child and their families. She earned her physical therapy degree from Marquette University and has recently obtained certification as a Pediatric Certified Specialist.