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Preventing Childhood Obesity
 
 
 

Teaching healthy behaviors at a young age is important since change becomes more difficult with age. Behaviors involving physical activity and nutrition are the cornerstone of preventing obesity in children and adolescents. Families are the most critical link in providing the foundation for those behaviors.

Families
Parents are the most important role models for children. Results from an American Obesity Association survey show that:

  • The majority of parents in the U.S. (78 percent) believe that physical education or recess should not be reduced or replaced with academic classes.
  • Almost 30 percent of parents said that they are "somewhat" or "very" concerned about their children's weight.
  • 12 percent of parents considered their child overweight.
  • Comparing their own childhood health habits to their children's, 27 percent of parents said their children eat less nutritiously, and 24 percent said their children are less physically active.
  • 35 percent of parents rated their children's school programs for teaching good patterns of eating and physical activity to prevent obesity as "poor," "non-existent," or "don't know."
  • Among six choices of what they believed to be the greatest risk to their children's long-term health and quality of life, 5.6 percent of parents chose "being overweight or obese." More parents selected other choices as the greatest risk: alcohol (6.1 percent), sexually transmitted disease (10 percent), smoking (13.3 percent), violence (20.3 percent), and illegal drugs (24 percent).
  • In terms of their own behavior, 61 percent of parents said that it would be either "not very difficult" or "not at all difficult" to change their eating and/or physical activity patterns if it would help prevent obesity in any of their children.
The AOA's survey results indicate that parents understand the importance of regular physical education for their children. Their unfamiliarity or inadequate rating of their children's school obesity prevention program is likely due to the lack of programs across the nation.

Parents appear to underestimate the health risk of excess weight to their children, and the difficulty in achieving and maintaining behavioral changes associated with obesity prevention. Additional studies are needed to develop appropriate public health programs to better educate parents in identifying and understanding changes in their children's weight, to incorporate the family in prevention efforts, and to improve school-based obesity prevention programs that include increasing physical education classes.


Here are some ways that parents can establish a lifetime of healthy habits for their family:

  • Create an Active Environment:

    • Make time for the entire family to participate in regular physical activities that everyone enjoys. Try walking, bicycling or rollerblading.
    • Plan special active family-outings such as a hiking or ski trip.
    • Start an active neighborhood program. Join together with other families for group activities like touch-football, basketball, tag or hide-and-seek.
    • Assign active chores to every family member such as vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn. Rotate the schedule of chores to avoid boredom from routine.
    • Enroll your child in a structured activity that he or she enjoys, such as tennis, gymnastics, martial arts, etc.
    • Instill an interest in your child to try a new sport by joining a team at school or in your community.
    • Limit the amount of TV watching.
  • Create a Healthy Eating Environment:
    • Implement the same healthy diet (rich in fruits, vegetables and grains) for your entire family, not just for select individuals.
    • Plan times when you prepare foods together. Children enjoy participating and can learn about healthy cooking and food preparation.
    • Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times.
    • Avoid rushing to finish meals. Eating too quickly does not allow enough time to digest and to feel a sense of fullness.
    • Avoid other activities during mealtimes such as watching TV.
    • Avoid foods that are high in calories, fat or sugar.
    • Have snack foods available that are low-calorie and nutritious. Fruit, vegetables and yogurt are some examples.
    • Avoid serving portions that are too large.
    • Avoid forcing your child to eat if he/she is not hungry. If your child shows atypical signs of not eating, consult a healthcare professional.
    • Limit the frequency of fast-food eating to no more than once per week.
    • Avoid using food as a reward or the lack of food as punishment.

Overweight and Obesity

Results of a 1999 national survey showed that 16 percent of high school students were overweight (Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than the 85 th percentile and below the 95 th percentile) and nearly 10 percent were obese (BMI more than or equal to the 95 th percentile). Self-reported height and weight was used. The survey, called the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBSS), is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and uses a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9 to 12.
Here are more results from the 1999 YRBSS:
    • More male students (17 percent) were overweight than female students (14 percent), and obese (12 percent of males and 8 percent of females).
    • More black students (22 percent) were overweight than white students (14 percent).
    • More black and Hispanic female students (23 and 18 percent, respectively) were overweight than white female students (12 percent).
      Self-Perception of Weight
      • When asked to describe their weight, 30 percent of students thought of themselves as overweight.
      • More female students (36 percent) than male students (24 percent) considered themselves overweight.
      • More Hispanic students (37 percent) than white and black students (29 and 25 percent, respectively) considered themselves overweight.

      Weight Loss Attempts

      • 43 percent of students reported that they were trying to lose weight.
      • More female students (59 percent) than male students (26 percent) reported that they were trying to lose weight.
      • More Hispanic students (51 percent) reported that they were trying to lose weight than white students (43 percent) and black students (36 percent).

      Methods of Weight Loss:

      Exercise

      • More than half (58 percent) of students reported the use of exercise (during the 30 days before the survey) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More female students (67 percent) reported the use of exercise for weight loss or maintenance than male students (49 percent). More white female students (70 percent) reported the use of exercise for weight loss or maintenance than black female students (59 percent).

      Change of Eating Behaviors

      • 40 percent of students reported that they ate less food, fewer calories, or foods low in fat (during the 30 days before the survey) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More female students (56 percent) reported that they ate less food, fewer calories, or foods low in fat than male students (25 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More white students (42 percent) reported that they ate less food, fewer calories, or foods low in fat than black students (34 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More white female students (60 percent) reported that they ate less food, fewer calories, or foods low in fat than Hispanic female students (51 percent) and black female students (43 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.

      Fasting

      • 13 percent of students reported fasting ("without eating for 24 hours or more" ) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More female students (19 percent) reported fasting than male students (6 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight

      Use of Dietary Supplements

      • 8 percent of students reported taking diet pills, powders, or liquids without a doctor's advice to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More female students (11 percent) reported taking diet pills, powders, or liquids without a doctor's advice than male students (4 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More white female students (12 percent) reported taking diet pills, powders, or liquids without a doctor's advice than black female students (6.9 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.

      Purging / Laxative Use

      • 5 percent of students reported vomiting or taking laxatives to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.
      • More female students (7 percent) reported vomiting or taking laxatives than male students (2 percent) to lose weight or to avoid gaining weight.

    • Find more 1999 YRBSS results from the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and from the CDC's Youth '99 Online Analysis .
 
 

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