Childhood Obesity: What can parents do?

Childhood obesity continues to be one of the greatest health threats to kids and teens across the country. In the United States, approximately 1 in 5 youth ages 6 – 19 is obese, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One of the leading causes of childhood obesity is a sedentary lifestyle devoid of physical activity. While technological advancements make our lives more comfortable, they also encourage less physical activity and promote more screen time with TVs, tablets and computers. Too much screen time can be detrimental to the overall physical health and emotional well-being of our youth.

Along with physical inactivity, poor diets are also strongly associated with childhood obesity rates. High-calorie, nutrient-deficient meals and snacks and an abundance of drinks loaded with added sugar are causing our youth to pack on the pounds. An unhealthy body mass index and poor cardiorespiratory fitness is a recipe for health risks that can lead to serious problems as adults.

It’s a fact: Obese children are at greater risk of becoming obese adults.

Obesity at any age is a problem. As adults though, it can lead to the development of numerous chronic and potentially life-shortening health conditions such as Type II Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, to name a few. Identifying modifiable risk factors for the prevention of childhood obesity is of utmost importance.

Listen to Mom

Research shows that mothers are the dominant influencers of a child’s lifestyle choices. One recent study sought to examine the relationship between mothers’ lifestyle factors (e.g. healthy body mass index, participation in regular physical activity, smoking status, etc.) and their child’s risk of developing obesity. Approximately 17,000 mothers and 24,000 children participated in the study, which showed that the incidence of obesity in the child was significantly lower when mothers:

  • maintained a healthy body mass index of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2 (56% reduction in risk)
  • engaged in at least 150 min/week of moderate/vigorous physical activities (21% reduction in risk)
  • did not smoke (31% reduction in risk)
  • consumed alcohol in moderation (1.0-14.9 g/day; 12% reduction in risk)

Surprisingly, the one risk factor that was not associated with obesity in children was the mother’s diet. However, children of women who followed all five healthy lifestyle factors (diet, weight, physical activity, smoking, alcohol) had a 75% lower risk of obesity compared to the children of mothers who did not adhere to any healthy lifestyle factors. Additionally, if both mothers and children followed a healthy lifestyle, there was an 82% reduction in the risk of developing obesity.

The study concluded that mothers who adhere to a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of obesity in their children. Additionally, when both mothers and children follow a healthy lifestyle, the risk of obesity in children is reduced even further.

Parents Hold the Power

So what does all of this mean? As parents, it is important to establish healthy lifestyle choices in the home to help prevent childhood obesity in the first place:

  • Live a physically active life through exercise, chores, and movement throughout the day.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Do not smoke or vape tobacco products.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.
Sources:

 


Written by Andjelka Pavlovic, PhD

Dr. Pavlovic is the Director of Youth Research and Education for The Cooper Institute and is a double-certified personal trainer. Her research focus is muscular strength/endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and the impact of both on chronic diseases and health outcomes.