Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Only You Can Prevent Childhood Obesity

Why is Childhood Obesity so Important?
The prevalence of childhood obesity has doubled since I was a child. Now nearly 20% of the population is obese and 1/3 of all children are overweight.
Children who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and therefore are at a higher risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and arthritis. If we as a society can reduce childhood obesity, this can greatly help reduce the need for treatment later in life and improve quality of life. Obesity is by no means a simple issue. Maternal birth-weight and stress, socioeconomic status and metabolic factors can all play roles outside of simple diet and exercise. However, diet and exercise will certainly improve their weight, cardiovascular and metabolic health and self-image. For most children, healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.

What Can Be Done?
We know all this and yet children continue to get heavier and more likely to have problems as adults. Healthier food and drink options in schools, working to eliminate food deserts(not desserts. i.e. areas(usually rural or inner city) where access to healthy food is limited), and promoting healthy activities in safe settings are all strategies that have been recommended with mixed success.

The downside of those recommendations and even this blog, is that usually people seeking out this information are not the people who need it the most. I mean why would you read this blog unless you are, at least, somewhat interested in endurance sports? I realize it's probably similar to going to see the monkeys at the zoo but that gets old quickly. People who need the information the most aren't always actively searching it out.

I was thinking about this the other day because of the huge role that schools play in health promotion. In addition to attempting to promote a well rounded education, schools are often the only place where children get a nutritious meal and they tasked with trying to promote physical activity as well. That's a huge burden on the school system and while I think it's important to do this, it needs to be reiterated at home. And this was my thought: get grandparents involved.

The reason I say this is two-fold. 1) Parents are often busy(I hear) and may not be able to always provide the best example(which I understand but don't condone) in regard to eating habits and physical activity. Grandparents, often more leisurely, can help to instill good habits and help out the family as well. 2)Grandparents potentially have a larger reach. While you may only have two children, if those children have two children each, you now have expanded who you can influence.

The key to grandparents being successful in health promotion lies not in their lectures, but in their own lifestyle. My grandfather certainly instilled physical activity as an important and fun part of life and I know Amber's grandparents did the same and were just as fastidious about nutrition. Without even knowing it, we were exposed to healthy lifestyles that then helped us stay healthy and active ourselves. I have several patients who help by cleaning their children and grandchildren's houses or do other chores like that. I think a better use of their time would be cooking nutrious and healthy meals and then getting the children to do fun physical activities with them after school.

Now for all of you without children or grandchildren, I'm not saying you're off the hook. Studies have also shown that your friends' health and wellness correlates to your own. Friends are all drunken sloths? Unfortunately your health may also be affected by that. So bottom line: Live a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle and hopefully your friends and family(and grandchildren) will model their behaviors after you and stay healthy.

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