Tackling Childhood Obesity — 5 Tips to Help Patients Manage Their Child’s Weight

It’s hard to read a newspaper or listen to the news today without hearing startling statistics about the rate of obesity among kids in our country. In fact, according to a study released in 2011, if a child is obese be- fore the age of 5, he/she will have a 25% chance of obesity as an adult. If he/she is obese by the age of 12, that risk jumps to 75%.

Obesity causes serious health conditions including high cholesterol, sleep apnea, diabetes and higher risk of depression and low self-esteem. If these risks are not addressed with parents and youth, the numbers will only grow. Pass these tips that could help prevent childhood obesity to your patients:

1. Recognize Obesity

Understanding that obesity exists in cases other than morbid obesity is important. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI), calculated by your child’s physician, that exceeds the 95th per- centile. It can be hereditary, but can also be caused by a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy exercise or nutrition choices. Recent cardiology studies show that heart disease can start as young as 9-11 years of age, and can be one major side-effect of childhood obesity. Prevention is easier than treatment. If you think your child may be obese or at risk, consult your pediatrician for a BMI calculation.

2. Promote Healthy Eating

Fostering healthy dietary habits should start from the time your child is born. Promoting breastfeeding has also been shown to lower the chance of obesity in children. Children obtain their eating habits at around 9-12 months old when they begin eating table food. Prevent obesity by limiting sugar filled juices. In addition, do not make food a way to satiate needs other than hunger or make food a reward. If children are used to getting fed anytime they cry or show signs of a need, food can become a habit in place of a necessity. Children need adequate nutrition and calories, but create healthy choices by stocking your home with snacks like fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt and replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water or orange juice. When caloric intake exceeds the calories your child burns off, it can cause weight gain that could lead to obesity.

3. Make Time For Family

Promoting family dinners can be a key ingredient in obesity prevention and can also create time to talk with children to form emotional bonds. Healthier choices are often made when eating at home, in place of on the run where fast food, which is often fried and high in calories, can become an unhealthy eating habit. Try to limit your family time in front of the TV by re- placing that time with daily family walks or outdoor activities. Also, research a family membership to your local YMCA or gym to find out more about the youth and family activities they offer.

4. Research School Initiatives

Take an active role in your child’s health even while they are at school or at extracurricular activities by re- searching the food choices and exercise offered. In the past, nutritious food choices were unavailable, and highly caloric school lunches and candy-filled vending machines were the only options. Many schools now

use alternatives such as grilled meats, low fat milk, water, fruits and vegetables. If your school doesn’t offer healthier options, pack your child a healthy lunch and after school snacks. Also research your child’s school’s bullying and teasing policies. Self-esteem plays a huge role in your child’s health and happiness and a tease-free environment is key.

5. Become A Positive Role Model

Being a good role model is important from in- fancy. Encourage your children to become active as soon as they start walking. Make exercise indoors and outdoors important in your daily routine. Creating healthy eating and exercise choices yourself will have a huge impact on your children. You don’t have to run a marathon, but if your children see you walking, taking the stairs, going to the gym and making healthy dietary choices, they will be more likely to follow in your footsteps and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Jeffrey P. Ubinger, M.D., is a Pediatrician on the team of physicians at Premier Medical Associates. With a focus on building better care, Premier Medical Associates has over 60 physicians in ten convenient locations and is the largest multi-physician practice in the Greater Pittsburgh area. In a healthcare environment of constant change, Premier Medical Associates is committed to creating value for every dollar spent on healthcare. Premier’s goal is to build a close, long-term relationship between patient and physician that will reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and lead to healthier lives. For more information, go to www.premiermedicalassociates.com.