Kids are considered overweight when their body-mass index (BMI) is above the 85th percentile for children of the same age and sex. They are obese when their BMI is above the 95th percentile of the same group.[pq]BMI is computed by dividing the weight (in pounds) by the height (in inches) squared, and the result is multiplied by 703.[/pq]
Why more and more kids are becoming overweight/obese
The rising phenomenon of overweight/obese kids is mainly caused by two things – a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition – and also, because of the popularity of the following:
- Computer games. They’ve replaced sports and other physical leisure activities.
- The Internet. With everything just a click or two away, the Internet lifestyle relies less and less on legwork, from doing research to buying and selling stuff, to sending and receiving documents, to communicating and meeting people, even to ordering food and going to the movies.
- Television. Kids nowadays are watching TV far beyond the recommended two-hour-a-day viewing time, leaving little else for physical activities, such as sports.
- Convenient modes of transport. Relying too much on cars, elevators, and other forms of transport means less exertion and less calories burned, compared with plain walking or stair climbing
- Fast-food restaurants. Many kids frequent these establishments, where foods are high in saturated fats, calories, and sodium.
- Junk food and processed foods. They may be appealing to kids’ taste buds, but they’re high in sodium and saturated fats.
All these factors are aggravated by the lack of exercise.[pq]With the demands of education on one hand and the trappings of modern life on the other, kids have conveniently seen exercise as a low priority activity.[/pq]
The consequences of overweight/obesity
Although many of these health problems were previously believed to occur only in adults, more and more kids, sometimes even younger than 10 years, are exhibiting the symptoms of several of the following problems. And remember – two out of three children who are obese by their 10th birthday remain obese in adulthood. So as parents, you have to watch what your kids do and eat.
Following are some health problems associated with obesity:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart and circulatory problems
- Sleep apnea, asthma, and other breathing difficulties
- Early onset of puberty (as young as 7 to 8 years)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Different types of cancer
Preventing your kids from becoming overweight/obese
It all starts with establishing healthy eating habits as early as today.
- Set yourself as a role mode. Kids learn best by imitating their parents.
- Introduce your kids to different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Make them more tempting by cooking or preparing them in a variety of visually appealing ways. Present fruits and vegetables at every meal.
- Choose milk that is low fat, reduced fat, or skim. (But note: Children below 5 years are not advised to take skim milk.)
- Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. It induces binge-eating and grabbing just whatever food is available.
- Meals should not be taken in front of the TV. Studies show that it increases food consumption.
- Don’t eat fast, because you’re bound to gobble up more than you need. By eating at a moderate pace, you’re allowing your stomach to signal your brain at the soonest moment when it’s full.
- Limit the consumption of fast food and processed foods. They’re high in fat, cholesterol, sodium, calories, and additives. Home-cooked meals are still the healthiest choice.
- Do not use fast food, processed foods, or desserts as rewards. If you need to provide edible treats, opt for nutritious and delicious alternatives, such as low-fat, sugar-free ice cream and fruit salad.
- Pack your kids’ lunch and snacks with healthful foods. Doing so allows you to better control what they eat, and helps them rely less on cafeteria and fat-food joints, where nutrition isn’t always high on the menu.
- Set snacks and meals at least two hours apart. It gives the body enough time to digest the food and convert it to energy.
- Never force your kids to polish off their plates. Doing so will only reinforce their dislike for the food. It also teaches them that it is all right to keep eating even if they are already full.
- Keep servings small, and allow your kids to ask for seconds.
- Limit the consumption of soft drinks and other commercial beverages, such as fruit juice, sweetened ice tea, and so-called “sports” drinks. Most are loaded with sugar and are artificially flavored. Make your own juice from fresh fruits instead.
- Teach your kids that water should be the first drink of choice for quenching thirst.
- Keep fat intake to less than 30 percent of total caloric intake, saturated fats to less than 10 percent and cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day.
- Stock up on healthful foods, and keep junk foods to a minimum. Don’t completely ban the latter from your household, because what is forbidden will only become more desirable.
- Leave fruits within sight. It will encourage your kids to snack on them.