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Childhood Obesity: Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

9/27/2013

Chubby little cheeks and pudgy legs are cute and healthy on babies. But in recent years, fewer babies are losing their baby fat as they progress from crawlers to toddlers to tweens, leading to an increase in overweight and obese children with health problems and self-esteem issues that follow them into adulthood.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one in three children and teens in the U.S. is overweight or obese. The AHA’s statistics show that overweight children have more than a 70 percent chance of staying overweight their entire lives. The good news is that obesity is easily avoidable in children through diet and exercise.

Daily habit changes can make a big difference in fighting childhood obesity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Starting this habit early will encourage children to remain active as they get older. Keeping children active also limits the amount of time they spend in front of the TV, since too much screen time has been linked to cardiovascular risk factors in children.

Parents should also pay attention to their children’s portion sizes because teaching proper portion sizes at an early age helps children make better choices as they get older. Visit the Department of Agriculture’s www.choosemyplate.gov for more information about recommended daily portion sizes. Portion size is different than serving size. Serving size is the standard measurement of food, like cups or ounces. A portion size is the amount a person is served in one sitting. According to the American Journal of Public health, most portion sizes today exceed federal serving size standards and studies show that people eat more when offered larger portion sizes.

TRICARE covers physical exams for children ages 5-11. These exams typically include a height-to-weight ratio, comparing a child to other children of the same age group. Parents can use this information as an indicator for whether their child needs help in losing or maintaining their current weight. Parents should discuss any changes to a child’s diet with their pediatrician and make sure they have a healthy weight loss plan.

Educated parents are one of the best defenses against childhood obesity. By monitoring portion sizes and ensuring children are getting enough exercise, we can stop childhood obesity. Another thing to remember is that children learn by watching their parents. If parents have a healthy diet and exercise regularly, children are likely to follow your good example. For more information about childhood obesity, visit www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood.

Last Updated 4/15/2014