About 1 in 5 children in the U.S. has obesity. In Tennessee, about 20 percent of youth between the ages of 10 and 17 have obesity. According to the last State of the Child report, Tennessee ranks 4th in the U.S. for childhood obesity. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and provides a chance for everyone to learn more about this serious health condition and how it can be prevented.
Many factors can impact childhood obesity. We all think of the common factors like eating and physical activity, but there are others factors like genetics, home environment, community and social factors and metabolism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity can be influenced by the following;
- too much time spent being inactive
- lack of sleep
- lack of places to go in the community to get physical activity
- easy access to inexpensive, high calorie foods and sugary beverages
- lack of access to affordable, healthier foods
Parents and caregivers can play a very active role in preventing childhood obesity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are five easy ways to help improve your family’s eating habits.
1. Don’t skip breakfast! Eating breakfast has been associated with better memory, better test scores, better attention span, healthier body weights, and improved overall nutrition. Despite this, almost half of American families regularly skip it.
2. Keep healthy snacks on hand. Fruits, vegetables, cheese, and whole grains are great snacks for hungry kids. Snacks can support, or even enhance, your child's overall healthy eating plan if you keep the right foods on hand.
3. Watch the portions. Overeating is very easy when there’s too much on the plate. Know the difference between a serving size and a portion size.
4. Eat as a family! Eating meals together can help everyone eat healthier, is a fun way to explore new foods together, and a great time for family conversations!
5. Keep the family meals a device/media free zone. Eating in front of screen can lead to overeating. Mealtime is an important time for family conversations and sharing the day's experiences without media getting in the way.
A child’s healthy growth can also be supported by providing nutritious, lower-calorie foods in place of foods high in added sugars and fats. Limit juice intake, which can have a lot of sugar in it. A piece of fruit has more fiber, is more filling and has less calories than a cup of juice. Water is a great alternative to sugary drinks like soda and juice. Help children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Physical exercise can have immediate health benefits like better sleep, better academic achievement, and reduced feelings of anxiety and stress. The CDC has provided a list of appropriate activities your child can do. Lastly, make sure your child has healthy sleep habits. Sleep helps improve attention and reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and obesity later in life. Get your child to bed at the same time each day, including the weekends; remove electronic devices from the bedroom; and keep their bedroom dark and cool. Depending on his or her age, your child needs 8-12 hours of sleep.
Parents and caregivers can also help prevent childhood obesity by learning about body mass index or BMI. BMI is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems. For children and teens, BMI is age and sex specific, and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. In children, a high amount of body fat can lead to weight-related diseases and other health issues. Being underweight can also put one at risk for health issues. Use the child and teen BMI calculator to find your child’s BMI and learn more about what it means and how it’s interpreted.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or WIC provides supplemental food assistance and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children until the age of 5. The federally funded program also provides referrals to other health, welfare, and community bases services your family may need. To set up a WIC appointment, contact your local county health department for services.
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