Childhood obesity is a serious and growing problem. National and international health organizations have deemed childhood obesity an epidemic with nearly one in five children in the U.S. considered obese or overweight, and that number is growing. The consequences of childhood obesity range from social struggles and learning disabilities to depression and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, asthma, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Childhood obesity also increases the risk of chronic illness and health issues in adulthood including, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea and infertility. Further, childhood obesity increases the risk of some types of cancers such as kidney cancer, colon cancer, gallbladder cancer and endometrial cancer, in adults.
Although some factors that increase the risk for childhood obesity, such as genetics, cannot be altered, most can. Recent studies indicated that childhood obesity is more likely to occur in children born to obese parents. Further, there is evidence to indicate that the food consumed by a woman during pregnancy can have direct, long-term effects on the health of her child and may contribute to childhood obesity. Although many factors influence the diet and nutritional status of women during pregnancy, it is essential that women try to maintain a healthy diet made up of a variety of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and lean protein. Nutritional supplements should include, but not be limited to, Omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and vitamin D.
Parents should begin to discuss childhood obesity during pregnancy. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of childhood obesity and should continue for the first 12 months. For those times when breastfeeding is not possible, good feeding habits include holding the infant while feeding (not propping the bottle for the infant), allowing the infant to feed until satisfied and using other means to comfort the child if it is reasonable to believe they are not hungry.
As children grow and begin to consume solid foods they should be offered well-balanced, healthy meals. Some children can be “picky eaters” and will not always eat what is offered. Guidelines, such as a “No-thank-you bite”, which requires children to take one bite of everything on their plate without having to eat all of their food, lets children know that it is okay to try new things and to say “No, thank you” if they do not like the taste. Some children may need to try a food 10-15 times before they begin to like it.
Having limited healthy alternatives to the meal offered is a good way to make sure children have the opportunity to eat until satisfied in a healthy manner. Also, if a child tends to eat one food more than others, such as macaroni and cheese, do not allow second helpings of that food until they have eaten a few bites of other foods such as vegetables, fruits and lean meats. Second helpings should be half portions. To avoid childhood obesity, it is important to teach children that it is okay to eat their favorite foods as long as they also include other types of food for a well-balanced meal.
Parents can battle childhood obesity through other healthy behaviors that help children maintain a good perspective on food. To avoid childhood obesity, keep meals and snacks at the table. Children and adults tend to eat more food while in front of the television. Also, do not use food as a punishment or reward for behavior. This keeps children from associating food with good or bad emotions which can lead to childhood obesity. If children tend to want to snack a lot make sure they are not using food as a solution for boredom, which can occur when they are watching television, or playing video games. Instead of a snack encourage them to play outside, or participate in an activity that requires physical exercise. If they insist on having a snack, give it to them at the table.
Often children may think they are hungry when what they need is to drink more water. Sugar-filled drinks are a major factor in childhood obesity and children should not be allowed to consume a high number of sugar-filled drinks every day. One sugar-filled drink every day is likely too much.
It is common to make many plans for your children during pregnancy. With the increased rate of childhood obesity, parents should discuss the risk factors for childhood obesity and plan healthy eating habits for their child during pregnancy. Having a plan before the baby arrives will allow parents to avoid conflicts about food and eating behaviors which will offer a stress free eating environment for the family.
Smith, E. (2008). Healthy lifestyles: childhood obesity: an alarming trend. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 23(1), 29-31. Retrieved from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database.