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December 8, 2003
Obesity, or being overweight, is on the rise for children in the United States. Everyone's body has both muscle and fat. But it's the ratio or proportion of one to the other that will determine if a person is overweight or obese. Doctors and other professionals have developed a formula that looks at and rates the ratio of lean muscle and body fat a person should have. This ratio is based on a person's height and weight. This is called the Body Mass Index (BMI). With the BMI, a range of heights and weights are assigned a number which equals the body fat a person has with that height and weight. If a person has a BMI of 25 to 29, that person is said to be overweight, if the BMI is 30 or above, that person is obese.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of obese children has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Nearly one out of every five children is overweight. Today, obesity is the number one national health concern for children. Children are now at greater risk for developing serious health conditions that once were "adult-only" problems.
Doctors are now seeing a growing number of children with:
This serious health development is of great concern to the Department of Health and Human Services. Health and Human Services has several resources to help families make healthy and nutritious food choices. Check out the dietary guidelines developed by HHS here . It also has a BMI chart that can be used to determine whether or not you and your family are within healthy lean muscle to body fat ranges.
Obesity and the health risks associated with it can be very difficult for children and families. There are many young children on strict diets who have to give themselves insulin shots because of diabetes. Many overweight children cannot sleep at night because they can't breathe properly. This interrupted breathing and lack of adequate sleep could have long-term effects on their developing brains and how they function.
The key to protecting children from the risks of obesity is prevention.
There are usually several reasons children are overweight. Eating too much food, not eating a balance of the right kinds of food, and not getting enough exercise. Obesity is not only a major concern for children, but for adults as well. Adults (and children) are busier and more stressed than ever. They tend to eat on the go, stay indoors more, and do low-energy activities that don't require movement (such as television, videos, or the computer). This contributes to weight gain.
Maintaining healthy eating habits and participating in regular physical activities are the two essential ingredients that will help beat the odds of obesity. Parents play a major role in ensuring that their children eat nutritious and well-balanced meals and participate in enjoyable, heart-pumping activities-everyday! Parents can start with the following suggestions:
If your child is already overweight, seek the help of your family pediatrician who can determine the best weight for your child and provide guidance on nutrition and weight goals.
In the next Are You Aware?, learn the basics of healthy eating and how to get your family moving on the path to good food and fitness.