Heavy Duty: Parenting & Obesity
More and more children are becoming overweight -- even obese. How do you know if your child is overweight? When should you be alarmed? And what can you do? We have some answers.
By Gina Shaw
Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson
Remember "adult-onset diabetes?" That's what doctors used to call type 2 diabetes, because it tended to develop later in life.
"Adult-onset diabetes" doesn't exist anymore -- at least, not by that name. Now there's only type 2 diabetes, because as a generation of American children get heavier and heavier, they're developing diseases that doctors used to see only in adults: diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, gallstones, and a host of other medical problems.
America's children are gaining weight at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15% of children and teens ages 6-19 are overweight. That's nine million kids, three times as many as in 1980.
But their parents don't seem to see it. Pediatrician Jennifer Bass, MD, has interviewed hundreds of parents in her clinic at Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Jacoby Medical Center and in her private practice. "In the municipal hospital clinic, over 100 of the 400 children were clinically obese, but 50% of the parents didn't recognize it," she says. "In the private practice, fewer children were obese, but again, half of their parents didn't think their children had a problem. People say 'Oh, they'll outgrow it,' but they don't. Overweight children become overweight adults."
What's An Overweight Child, Anyway?
So how do you know if your child is just holding onto a little baby fat, or flirting with a dangerous weight problem? The CDC defines an overweight child as one whose body mass index (BMI) falls into the 95thpercentile or more for their age. If a child is between the 85thand 95thpercentiles, he's at risk for becoming overweight; another 15% of kids fall into this category.
To see which percentile your child falls under, first calculate BMI with WebMD's BMI calculator. Then match that number with your child's age in these CDC charts -- click girls or boys (AdobeAcrobat is required to view these documents. Download it for free here.). It's a good idea to consult with your pediatrician, as the charts can be complex.
But don't expect your pediatrician to just come out and tell you that your child is overweight. "A lot of physicians aren't comfortable discussing obesity," says Bass. "They let it go for awhile hoping the child will grow into his weight and become more active, but that doesn't happen."
In addition to the BMI-for-age measurement, there are other signs that a child has a weight problem, says Mary Savoye, RD, CDE, a research dietitian and director of the "Bright Bodies" program at Yale University School of Medicine. Some red flags:
Causes of the explosion in childhood obesity include many of the same trends that are making parents fat as well: more hours in front of the television and the computer, fewer hours outdoors, and the birth of the "super size." Meanwhile, schools are cutting down on physical education and loading cafeterias with vending machines that sell chips, candy bars, and soft drinks. What's a parent to do?
Healthy Weight: All in the Family
Combating the rising tide of childhood obesity isn't easy. "You're walking a fine line. You don't want your child to have this dieting mentality at 8 years old," says Savoye. "Diets haven't worked for adults, so how will they work for kids?" Instead, parents need to change not only their children's lifestyles, but also their own -- with a focus on health, not "dieting."
Published Jan. 29, 2003.
SOURCES: Jennifer Bass, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine Jacoby Medical Center, New York • Mary Savoye, RD, CDE, research dietitian and director of the "Bright Bodies" program, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. • Kristi Houser, RD, Columbus Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio • CDC: "Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2000."
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