Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Kids should eat less, play more

As childhood obesity continues to grow, parents must promote heathful habits

By Doreen Nagle
Gannett News Service

Obesity in children has become a top priority for health professionals in the United States. The difficulties of being an overweight kid go beyond being made fun of by schoolmates or being the last one picked for T-ball.

It's a fact

• According to the International Food Information Council, the percentage of overweight children has jumped 50 percent to one in five during the past several years. Experts conclude that while genes play a role, they do not tell the whole story.

• Less than 25 percent of children get vigorous daily activities. The experts say this is the No. 1 factor contributing to the rise of childhood obesity. Kids are playing video games or watching TV, not going outside and playing.

• Overweight children miss out: Children with disabilities are more likely to be picked for a game by peers than overweight children.

• A child who is overweight has a greater chance of becoming an overweight adult. A teen with "baby" fat has a 75 percent-plus chance of becoming overweight, putting them at high risk for diabetes, heart problems, cancer, high blood pressure and other serious diseases.

• A recent study found overweight children are three to five times more likely to have a substance in their blood that is linked to adult cardiovascular disease than children who are not.

What can parents do?

• First, learn what it means for your child to be considered overweight. Another study found only 21 percent of mothers knew what overweight is defined as. It is when your child weighs only 15 percent more than the pediatrician's chart allows for.

• Kids are now America's No. 1 couch potatoes. Daily physical activity for children needs to become a priority for parents just like brushing teeth and buckling seat belts.

• Offer your child a chance to be involved in a range of noncompetitive, as well as competitive sports. Sign up school-age children at local Y's for a season of basketball or preschoolers for an activity day at the recreation center.

• Turn off the TV at least one night a week and take a walk after dinner with your children. Exercise does not have to take place on a treadmill to be effective.

• During their first year, children grow more rapidly than at any other time in their lives. Many families insist their children eat past the point when they're no longer hungry. A 4- to 5-year-old should eat only 40 calories per pound of body weight per day.

• Do not use sweets as a reward or an incentive to finish dinner.

• Force feeding your child will not make him taller, just heavier. A good eater listens to his body's cues about when to stop eating.

• Train your overweight child to think about portion sizes, to chew each bite slowly and to put the fork down in between bites.

• When it comes to meals, it is the parent's duty to buy and serve nutritious foods. Fast-food burgers and milkshakes should be relegated to once in a while treats. To help, some lawmakers are trying to do away with soda and non-nutritious fast foods in schools.

• Don't single out an overweight child to be on a diet. Offer the same foods that the entire family eats but in smaller portions.

• One healthy way for a child to diet is to drink water before dinner to feel full, or eat foods with a high water content, such as melons.

Tip from the trenches

• "The pounds soda puts on my children add up easily if we aren't paying attention to how much they drink. So instead of soda, we add plain sparkling water to fruit juice. The kids love how it tastes."

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