A CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sampling of five to 17 year-olds showed that almost 60 percent of children that were overweight had at least one risk factor for heart disease, and 25 percent had two or more risk factors.
But weight gain goes beyond just the physical risks of developing certain chronic conditions and diseases, from asthma and sleep apnea (snoring), to bone/joint problems, diabetes, and heart disease. For children especially, the emotional and social effects of obesity, including the internal shame about weight, can be devastating to a kid in school dealing with peer pressure — when appearance and not fitting in can provoke bullying, teasing, and isolation. Anxiety; depression; self-loathing; and withdrawal from family, friends, and activities is not uncommon and can follow kids into adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that 71 percent of kids seeking treatment about their weight said that they had been bullied in the past year. More than one third said that their bullying lasted past five years. This ripple effect can not only prompt poor grades in school, it can also push a child toward binge eating — and more weight gain (a vicious cycle). The stress of bullying at school can also be compounded when there’s little support at home.
- Choose words carefully when talking to kids about weight and body image. Use “weight gain” or “overweight” in place of “fat,” “obese,” or “morbidly obese.” Refer to body mass index (BMI) numbers.*
- Create a stigma-free zone by listening and offering support without blame or judgment.
- Help kids set realistic, short-term goals with tools and rewards for getting back in shape, and increasing self-esteem.
- Improve diet by boosting lean proteins (chicken, fish, plus beans), fruits and veggies, dairy or fortified soy milk, whole grains, and water in place of candy and sugary soda. Snack smart, too!
- Increase exercise with kids’ favorite sports, plus, try riding bikes, dancing, soccer, or even playing tag as a family!
- Have kids take a break from video games or TV, and play outside. Kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano
*The CDC provides a body mass index (BMI) calculator for children and teens (ages 2 through 19 years): https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/bmi/calculator.html
The CDC also provides tips for measuring height and weight accurately at home: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_BMI/measuring_children.html
Sources include: www.aao.org, www.cdc.gov, www.nationwidechildrens.org, www.nei.nih.gov