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Dietitans Dish: Recognize weight problems in your child

May 3, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.
Updated May 4, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.


By Lisa Hagan

Pediatricians and parents are concerned about the rising rates of obesity among children and are now recognizing the need for action.

Over the past three decades, the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled from 15 percent in the 1970s to nearly 30 percent today. Nationally, 25 million children and adolescents who are categorized as overweight.

Obesity in children and adolescents is a serious issue with many health and social consequences that often continue into adulthood.

Implementing prevention programs and having a better understanding of treatment for children is important to controlling the obesity epidemic.

A measurement called the Body Mass Index, which is based on a combination of height and weight, is used to determine if a person is overweight or obese.

According to national averages from the Centers for Disease Control, if a child is ranked above the 85th percentile, they are considered overweight.

Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, most excess weight is the result of poor dietary habits and inactivity.

If children consume more calories than they expend through exercise and normal physical activity, they gain weight. Many factors could increase a child's risk of becoming overweight:

Diet - Regular consumption of high-calorie foods, such as fast foods and vending machine snacks contribute to weight gain. Soft drinks, candy and desserts are also high in calories.

Inactivity - Children with little or no physical activity are more likely to gain weight because they are not burning calories. Activities, such as watching television or playing video games, should be balanced with physical activities.

Genetics - If obesity runs in the family, a child may be genetically predisposed to put on excess weight, especially in an environment where high-calorie food is available and physical activity isn't encouraged.

Psychological Factors - Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress or boredom.

Certain hard-to-control factors can also contribute to a child's risk of becoming obese. For example, children from minority to low-income backgrounds are at greater risk of obesity. Research shows poverty and obesity often go hand-in-hand because low-income parents may lack the time and resources to make healthy eating and exercise a family priority.

Overweight children can develop serious health problems, such as:

Heart disease

High blood pressure

Type II diabetes

Asthma and other respiratory problems

Sleep disorders

Liver disease

Eating disorders

Children, unlike adults, need extra nutrients and calories to fuel their growth and development.

If you would like more information on how to prevent obesity, or steps your family can take to ensure a healthy lifestyle, contact your physician or a registered dietitian.

Lisa Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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