The nation observed Childhood Obesity Awareness Month during September. It is an education and call-to-action campaign that encourages parents, educators, pediatricians and others to promote healthier lifestyles among the nation's youths.
According to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2015-2016, nearly 1-in-5 school-age children and young people (6-19 years old) in the United States are obese.
A child with obesity has excessive body fat and is at greater risk for serious illness, injury or disease before or during early adulthood. Parents with concerns about their child's weight can request a body mass index screening -- the system that measures body fat percentages -- through their health care provider.
There is no singular established reason why children are heavier today and pointing blame at the fast food industry, video game manufacturers, public school curriculum or community recreation programs will do little to fix the immediate health concerns. Childhood Obesity Month is geared toward actions that will make a difference like understanding the concern and taking steps to counter the trend of unhealthy habits.
Raquel Bopp is a registered dietician in Kenner's Family Medicine Clinic and is experienced in nutrition counseling. She has worked with children in this area and has dealt with eating disorders. She believes youngsters learn most from their parents' behavior.
"The best way for parents to help their children become active is to become active themselves and to regularly engage in family physical activity," Bopp said.
Energy imbalance is a key factor behind the high rates of obesity seen in the U.S., the CDC emphasizes in its reports. Many factors contribute to childhood obesity including:
• Genetics
• Metabolism -- how the body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use.
• Community and neighborhood design and safety.
• Short sleep duration.
• Eating and physical activity behaviors.
Genetics cannot be changed, but people can have a positive role in guiding themselves, and oftentimes others, into a healthier lifestyle.
"Parents need to participate with their children whether by starting a walking regimen in the evening, showing excitement for sports-related activities or joining a gym," Bopp said. "Today, more-and-more children want to stay inside and not engage in outdoor physical activity because they are hooked on video games or social media. In addition, you can't expect a child to follow a healthy diet if it doesn't start at home.
"Making changes can be difficult, but not impossible," she emphasized. "It's important to start with the adult in the house. Little changes are better than no change at all, and it goes a long way."
Preparing healthy meals as a family is another good way to instill positive habits, Bopp further noted. Parents can make meal modifications such as adding non-starchy vegetables, serving fruit and yogurt instead of chips at snack time, and replacing sugary drinks with water or nutrient-rich beverages like fat-free milk. The goal is to eat at least 2-3 servings of fruits, 5-6 servings of non-starchy vegetables, 3-5 ounces of whole grains and lean protein and healthy fats.
A great resource for food, health and fitness information for the whole family can be found at www.eatright.org. The site has tips on how to eat healthier as a family, even on a budget. Tips include how to change your lifestyle (even when busy) and exercising, which is just as important as following a healthier lifestyle with smarter eating.
Another good site Bopp mentioned is www.blubberbuster.com. This resource helps parents, children and teens who are overweight.
"Obesity can be eradicated," Bopp noted. "However, it is up to the parents and caregiver becoming more involved."
KAHC offers nutrition counseling services for diet and health, weight management, stress and emotional eating, vegetarian guidance, building muscle, preventing disease and more. If interested in talking with Kenner's dietician, call 1-866-LEE-KAHC (533-5242) or schedule an appointment through www.tricareonline.com.