Health problems related to obesity can start in the early years for overweight children. Once, type 2 diabetes was a disease affecting older adults. Now, it is appearing 30 years earlier in obese children. Problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol are more likely in overweight kids compared to those of a healthy weight. Unchecked, such conditions can lead to heart disease. Obese children may even have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
A 2004 survey found one in three Canadian boys between the ages of seven and 13 were overweight. One in seven was obese. With girls of the same age, one in four was overweight while one in nine was obese. An overweight teen is more likely to become an overweight or obese adult. This is especially true if one or both parents carry additional weight.
Obesity is a positive energy imbalance. If we do not use up all of the energy (food) we consume, we gain weight. Extra energy is stored in our bodies as fat. This positive energy balance may be very small each day, but over time results in weight gain.
Many do not realize that drinking a can of pop each day (an increasing trend among school age children) can mean 15 added pounds in a year! A cumulative positive balance of 3500 calories adds up to a pound of deposited fat. Since all foods contain energy, even eating what parents consider nutritious or healthy foods can affect weight.
In theory, to avoid gaining excess weight, we must either take in fewer calories or exercise more. However, studies prove that people who lose weight and keep it off do both. This means they cut back on food portions, especially high calorie, poor nutrient foods, and include exercise as part of a permanent healthy lifestyle habit change.
Trends Leading to Obesity
All children need a healthy diet and an active lifestyle to grow and develop properly. All benefit from environments that make good choices possible and easy for them. Changing your environment is especially helpful if your child has a weight problem. Your doctor or another health care provider can help you find out whether your child’s weight is healthy.
Calculating body mass index (BMI) can check whether your child is one of many in Canada classified as overweight. BMI is a simple weight-for-height equation.
The number is compared to a BMI-for-age chart, similar to a growth chart. These charts are available on-line (see resources) or you can ask your child’s doctor.
In addition, your doctor will also consider your child’s age, growth patterns, health concerns and family history. If necessary, you can then discuss how to make healthy changes.
Genetic factors do play a role in the control of body weight. However, the rapid increase in obesity rates in Canada happened too quickly to be explained by genetic changes in our population.
Children are a product of their environment, and trends (see sidebar) play a role in the rise of obesity. We need to think about why our environment may promote overeating and lack of physical activity.
Kids have some control over the food they eat and the amount of energy they spend in activity. However, factors in their environment are a major influence on their choices. Think carefully about your child’s environment. Does it encourage eating more and exercising less? When this happens, a positive energy balance results. Researchers have developed a name for such surroundings. An environment that fosters high energy intake and low energy use is called ‘obesogenic.’
Examine your child’s home, school and neighbourhood surroundings to identify what is influencing your child’s eating and exercise choices. Then, think about changes that support a healthier lifestyle. Remember, you are a role model for your kids. Lead your children to a healthier weight by setting a good example.
What are your household rules about time in front of the TV and playing computer games?
Watching a lot of TV is not unusual. Close to one in three Canadian children in grades six to nine watch four or more hours of TV daily. Watching this amount is associated with a higher risk of obesity.
Television viewing competes with time spent being physically active. Being in front of the TV may mean eating more, either while watching or in response to ads. Food ads targeted at children are generally for items higher in fat and energy. In 2007, a panel of Canadian obesity experts published guidelines on managing and preventing obesity in adults and children. They recommended limiting daily TV viewing, computer and video games to one hour for preschoolers and no more than two for school-aged children.
The Canada Food Guide (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php) suggests that children eat five to ten servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Almost all children age nine to twelve know that fruit and vegetables are good for the heart. Yet, one in three Canadian children in grades six to ten do not eat a piece of fruit each day. Over half do not have a daily serving of either raw or cooked vegetables. On the other hand, close to a quarter of Canadian children the same age eat chips and chocolate bars daily. Around half drink soft drinks every day. As a parent, you decide what food is offered at home. Reviewing the Canada Food Guide can help you make healthier choices. Remember to allow your child some choice about what (or what not) to eat.
Children’s participation in physical activity can:
Parents who agree with the ideas in the adjacent box tend to have children who use more energy. As well, children with active parents tend to be more active than those whose parents are not.
Enjoy family activities where everyone gets some exercise. Activities should be fun and recreational and do not have to be structured. Current guidelines recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity for children of all ages and grade levels.
One of every two Canadian children aged five to 17 travels to school using inactive methods of transportation, including cars, buses and trains. If your child is among them, ask yourself why. Depending on the answer, you may be able to make changes.
Check out the Green Communities Canada program Active & Safe Routes to School (www.saferoutestoschool.ca). This national program encourages students and their parents to be more active in getting to and from school. It also helps school and community officials ensure that environments around schools support walking and cycling.
ENERGY IN / ENERGY OUT
|1 to 2 cookies||=||15 minutes of play|
|1 slice of bread||=||30 minute of play|
|1 donut||=||1 hour of play|
Only a two per cent daily surplus in energy balance can lead to obesity!
Canadian guidelines recommend that students receive at least 150 minutes of physical activity class instruction per week, or three 50-minute classes per week. What about your child? Parents report that only half of five to 12 year olds receive physical education at or above this level. Remember, children who are more active and physically fit seem to learn better and have higher grades.
Are food choices offered to your child for the most part healthy ones? What are the costs of different foods? Studies suggest that reducing prices on low-fat snacks compared to other kinds makes teens more likely to buy them from vending machines.
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors benefits a child’s physical activity. Most Canadian parents report that parks and outdoor spaces are locally available. However, one in three say that their children do not use them often. If this is true for your child, is it because you worry about safety? Thirty per cent of Canadian parents say this is true for them. By joining with other parents to identify safety issues, you may be able to find solutions.
If you are worried about your child’s weight, take action. Have your child properly assessed by an experienced health professional – a family doctor or pediatrician. Consider your environment, as changing lifestyle habits is key for most overweight and obese children. In rare cases, medications and even surgery to promote weight loss may be prescribed. Consult your health professional for further information.