Childhood Obesity - Prevention

If your child has challenges with being overweight or obese, how do you try to prevent it?

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Can childhood obesity be prevented?

Benjamin Franklin's famous dictum "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is ironically the perfect approach to childhood obesity. The CDC has recently raised the notion that should the alarming increase in childhood obesity not be reversed, the consequences may make the current pediatric population be the first generation to not exceed the life span of their parents. Studies have indicated that childhood obesity must be attacked prior to the teen years. Twenty percent of obese 4-year-old children will grow up to become obese adults; 80% of obese teens will continue their obesity into adulthood. All of the above reviewed consequences of pediatric obesity are brought forward into the adult years. Here are two amazing observations: (1) children 6 months to 6 years of age watch an average of two hours of television per day; (2) children 8-18 years of age spend an average of seven and a half hours per day involved with entertainment media activity such as television, computer games, video games, and cell phone calls/texting.

Social and cultural changes are necessary to effectively address the pediatric obesity epidemic. A basic approach would entail the following:

  1. Advocate breastfeeding during the first year of life. Studies strongly reinforce that breastfed children have a lower risk of infant, childhood, and adolescent obesity.
  2. Drastically overhaul the school breakfast and lunch programs to favor heart-healthy food choices. Encouraging salad bars, banning sugar drinks, and flavored milk are options.
  3. Guarantee safe neighborhood environments which foster outside play activities.
  4. Limit TV/computer/social-network communication or other activities which encourage sedentary behaviors.
  5. Encourage vigorous physical education programs for 45 minutes daily.
  6. Revamp restaurant portion sizes. Studies had repeatedly demonstrated a link to the rise in pediatric obesity with fast-food restaurants' adoption of supersized portions as well as the bundling of food options (for example, deals for hamburger, french fries, and soda meals).
  7. Encourage the development of activity-friendly infrastructure in communities -- bike lanes, regional parks, etc. Many studies have shown that the social and cultural changes above must be accompanied by a strong family and community support structure, without which these approaches often fall short.
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