Obesity is a chronic disease affecting increasing numbers of children and adolescents as well as adults. Obesity rates among children in the US have doubled since 1980 and have tripled for adolescents. About 17 percent of children aged two to 19 are considered overweight compared to over 66 percent of adults who are considered overweight or obese.
Earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity-related depression in children and adolescents is being seen by healthcare professionals. The longer a person is obese, the more significant obesity-related risk factors become. Given the chronic diseases and conditions associated with obesity and the fact that obesity is difficult to treat, prevention is extremely important.
A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is because the likelihood of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood is thought to increase as the child ages.
Breastfed babies are 20 percent less likely to develop diabetes and are less likely to become overweight. Therefore, the longer babies are breastfed, the less likely they are to become overweight as they grow older.
Young people generally become overweight or obese because they do not get enough physical activity in combination with poor eating habits. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child’s weight status.
Recommendations for prevention of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence include:
- Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing on a child’s weight.
- Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity set an example so that a child is more likely to do the same.
- Encourage physical activity. Children should have 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may promote weight loss and provide weight maintenance.
- Reduce “screen” time in front of the television and computer to less than two hours daily.
- Encourage children to eat when hungry and to eat slowly.
- Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as a punishment.
- Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.
- Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.
Many of the strategies that produce successful weight loss and maintenance help prevent obesity. Improving eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role in preventing obesity. Recommendations for adults include:
- Eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A vegetable serving is one cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving is one piece of small to medium fresh fruit, one-half cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice, or one-fourth cup of dried fruit.
- Choose whole grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. Avoid highly processed foods made with refined white sugar, flour, and saturated fat.
- Weigh and measure food in order to be able to gain an understanding of portion sizes. For example, a 3-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Avoid supersized menu items.
- Balance the food “checkbook.” Taking in more calories than are expended for energy will result in weight gain. Regularly monitor weight.
- Avoid foods that are high in “energy density,” or that have a lot of calories in a small amount of food. For example, a large cheeseburger with a large order of fries may have almost 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. By ordering a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing, you can avoid hundreds of calories and eliminate much of the fat intake. For dessert, have fruit or a piece of angel food cake rather than the “death by chocolate” special or three pieces of home-made pie.
- Remember that much may be achieved with proper choices in serving sizes.
- Accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity on most, or preferably all, days of the week. Examples of moderate intensity exercise are walking a 15-minute mile, or weeding and hoeing a garden.
- Look for opportunities during the day to perform even ten or 15 minutes of some type of activity, such as walking around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs.
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