Battling childhood obesity: How to keep your kids trim and healthy

Battling childhood obesity: How to keep your kids trim and healthy

As your child grows out of the toddler years, excess weight can become a serious concern – perhaps putting him or her at risk for some very grown-up health problems.

When should you be concerned about your child?

At your child’s regular checkups, the doctor will look at body mass index (BMI) and growth charts to determine if he or she is within healthy weight limits. Children are usually considered overweight if their BMI is at or above the 85th percentile. Children with a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher are considered obese.

No laughing matter

If your child is overweight, or crossing percentiles and trending toward overweight, it is important for you to address the problem, according to Naveen Uli, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist and Medical Co-Director of Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight™ at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Dr. Uli says that is because overweight kids are at risk for developing typically adult health problems, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure

Plus, unlike their slimmer peers, they are much more likely to develop serious health problems down the road, such as heart disease.

The skinny on childhood obesity

Just how serious a problem is childhood obesity? Consider these facts and figures:

  • Over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled.
  • Today, about 17 percent of children and teens ages 2 to 19 are obese.
  • Children with a high BMI are more likely to have enlarged hearts, putting them at risk for heart disease later in life.
  • According to one study, 70 percent of obese children have at least one heart disease risk factor, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, and 39 percent have two or more risk factors.
  • Type 2 diabetes, previously seen mostly in adults, is increasingly common among children. Experts believe childhood obesity is the cause.
  • Overweight children are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which is really a group of health problems, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and low levels of “good” cholesterol, which put kids at risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Eating right

“Focus on providing nutritious meals and snacks and teaching healthy food choices,” says Dr. Uli. That means:

  • Cutting out snacks with little nutritional value, like potato chips
  • Offering whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, yogurt, fruits and vegetables
  • Limiting soda and sugary fruit drinks and giving them skim milk or water instead

Get them moving

Dr. Uli recommends that children exercise at least 60 minutes a day most days of the week, but that does not necessarily mean 60 minutes in organized sports.

Overcoming childhood obesity

Childhood obesity can become a vicious cycle of weight gain, inactivity and a cascade of health consequences. UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight program is breaking the cycle – getting families back on track for better health. Learn how Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight staff is helping families in and around Cleveland to be more active, eat well and maintain a normal weight through community education. For details or to enroll in the program, call 216-844-1966.

Reference these growth charts to determine your child’s BMI:

Naveen Uli

Medical Co-Director, Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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