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Time to get serious about childhood obesity

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Why do we need to designate a month for childhood obesity awareness? Because the number of children in the United States age 6 to 11 who are overweight or obese has increased by more than 400 percent in the last 3 decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity also increases a child’s risk for such serious illnesses as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in adulthood.

If you are a parent or grandparent who is reading this, it might be hard to focus on health problems that could occur 20 or 30 years in the future. Why should you worry about your child’s weight right now?

There are many studies that show the medical, psychological, social and emotional consequences of being overweight, but in a recent study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University have found that overweight children are also at greater risk of school absenteeism than their normal-weight peers. The study found that overweight children were absent on average 20 percent more than other children. Increased absenteeism has been linked to increased drug use, increased rates of pregnancy and poor academic performance.

What can you do? First determine if your child is indeed too heavy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that BMI, or body mass index, is the best way to gauge a child’s weight. It’s not the same BMI chart that’s used for adults. Instead, a child’s BMI is calculated using age- and gender-based percentiles. Healthy weight ranges in kids change with age and height, and according to gender. To access the CDC BMI calculator for children, go to http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/Calculator.aspx.

If you find that your child needs to slim down, you can help them with these tips from the CDC:

n Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.

n Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.

n Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.

n Serve reasonably sized portions.

n Encourage your family to drink lots of water.

n Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.

n Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.

Activity also plays an important part in helping your child to manage their weight. Make sure that they are not spending too much time in front of a television or computer screen. Encourage them to spend at least 60 minutes each day being active. And set a good example by making time for physical activity for yourself each day.

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