Childhood obesity: a growing concern

Obesity rates in children are growing at alarming rates. About 33% of the children in America are considered overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963, according to the American Heart Association.

Children are generally overweight or obese because they don’t get enough physical exercise and have poor eating habits. Genetics, environment, metabolism and life style may also play a role.

“When a child has obese parents, they are three to four times more likely to have weight problems themselves,” Dr. Ronald Spiegel, Pediatrician for Snoqualmie Ridge Medical Clinic, said. “This issue is becoming a major health crisis for all of us.”

Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term serious health impacts. Children who are obese are more likely to have risk factors for heart disease and diabetes including high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. An overweight child may also develop other health issues.

“I encounter frequent complaints of back and lower extremity aches and pains and knee and ankle problems in overweight children,” Spiegel said. “These aches and pains can limit the child’s ability to be more active and play sports, which is exactly what they need to do.”

On top of these medical issues, there is the stress of potential bullying, which can lead to psychological issues like depression and low self-esteem.

Healthier lifestyle habits, healthy eating and physical activity can lower the risk of developing weight related diseases.

Here are some strategies to promote healthier habits:
  • Set a good example for children by eating healthy and being active to increase the likelihood they will do the same.
  • Work as a family to change eating habits. Consume more fruits, vegetables and water while limiting fast food and sugary snacks or drinks.
  • Encourage physical activity. Children should have at least an hour of moderate physical activity every day, such as hiking, swimming, walking, sports or biking.
  • Limit TV and computer time to less than two hours per day to encourage physical activity.

Overweight children are likely to become overweight adults. Making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control.

Dr. Spiegel is a Pediatrician for Snoqualmie Valley Hospital District. For more information about Dr. Spiegel, go to Dr. Ronald Spiegel.