As a parent, you are a nurturer, a teacher and a caretaker. It is also important to be a health advocate for your children. Resisting their fast food cravings and encouraging your kids to play games that exercise more than their fingers is vital to keeping them physically fit. The obesity rate among children and adolescents has climbed to 17 percent—triple the rate of just 30 years ago. While acknowledging childhood obesity may be a sensitive issue, even excess “baby fat” could put your child at risk for developing chronic medical conditions. Dr. David W. Jones, a board-certified pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, says it is a common misperception among parents that overweight children will “grow out of it.” Intervention is often crucial to help children maintain a healthy weight and take charge of their health.
How do I know if my child is overweight?
Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, who will measure their height and weight to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is plotted on a growth chart to determine if your child is in a healthy weight range. A child is considered overweight if their BMI is at or above the 85th percentile for their age and sex, and obese if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile.
Starting this school year, state law requires school systems to conduct a fitness assessment, which includes BMI measurement, on all students enrolled in a physical education class. Parents will receive a report on their child’s fitness level, as well as recommendations for improvement.
If my child is overweight or obese, what health conditions is he/she at risk of developing?
Children who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of developing many chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and depression. Studies also show that obese children and adolescents are more likely to have severe obesity in adulthood, which can lead to heart disease and certain cancers.
What are some tips for preventing or treating obesity?
Consult your child’s pediatrician for a weight management regimen specific to your child. As a general guideline, remember the 5-2-1-0 message. It is recommended that children eat five servings of vegetables, spend no more than two hours in front of a screen (TV/video game/computer), exercise for one hour and consume zero sweetened beverages each day. It is also important for parents to model these healthy behaviors for their children.
What resources are available to help teach children healthy eating and exercise habits?
There is a wealth of information about combating childhood obesity available online at www.kp.org and www.letsmove.gov. Kaiser Permanente also offers free and low-cost health classes for children at its medical facilities across metro Atlanta. These, and many other healthy living classes, are open to the public. Operation Zero: Weight Management for Children targets 9-17 year olds and is led by a dietician, chef and fitness instructor. The 6-session program covers eating influences, healthy eating habits, low-fat cooking, reading food labels and starting an exercise regimen. KP Fit Kids is a 45-minute exercise class that incorporates fun and games for children ages 6-12. Parents and children can learn how to prepare healthy snacks together at Snack Facts for KP Kids. For more information, visit www.kp.org/classes.
David W. Jones, MD is a board-certified pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. A graduate of the Medical College of Virginia, Jones completed his pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles
Kaiser Permanente of Georgia
Panola Medical Center
Stonecrest Medical Center