Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity
Our children do not go outdoors (spending all summer day until nightfall physically active), wear hand-me-downs, or eat primarily home-cooked food. In fact, in 2010, the CDC reported that 17% of American children were obese (13.7% in N.J.). One third of youth are overweight. Research shows that American children may be facing a lifespan shorter than that of their parents. One study published in JAMA found that children born in the year 2000 have a >30% chance of developing diabetes within their lifetime. Its time to better understand the crisis for which First Lady, Michelle Obama began the “Let’s Move” campaign.
BMI (body mass index) is a measure of weight relative to height that estimates body fat (and thus health risks). A BMI over the 85th%ile defines a person as overweight. A BMI above the 95th%ile defines one as obese. Disproportionate weight & BMI during developmental years has a permanent affect far more damaging than this phenomenon in adulthood. Total body fat cells are determined by late adolescence; so, in adulthood this number never changes. The cells can only shrink or enlarge as weight fluctuates. Thus, overeating in childhood leads to an overproduction of fat cells permanently.
Obese children have a 2-3 times greater risk of developing high cholesterol. Overweight children are at risk for heart disease by their 20s. Fatty liver changes are seen in up to one third of obese children. There is increased risk of asthma, gall stones, bone deformities, and insulin resistance with increasing weight at disproportionate (relative to the child’s height/ bony frame) levels. Obese children are at 2-5 times greater risk of developing sleep apnea, where less oxygen is delivered to the brain. New studies show that childhood obesity increases the possible development of Alzheimer’s-like brain lesions.\
By adolescence, the obese teen is now two to three times more likely to die by middle age compared to normal weight teens. There is an increased risk of the development of metabolic syndrome, in which fat and glucose metabolism is impaired. This condition is associated with a 5 times greater risk of developing diabetes, and three times greater risk of stroke or heart attack.
Nutrition must be addressed in the home and school. 6.5 million children live in low income areas that lack stores with affordable, nutritious food. The USDA reports a typical school lunch far exceeds the recommended sodium limit (500mg), and less than 1/3 of schools stay below the recommended fat content limit. The National School Lunch Program serves 31 million children. Additionally, many cafeterias offer an unregulated “a la carte” menu. Many serve over processed food that is high in sugar, fat, sodium and calories.
Our children need diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If an obese person loses 5-10% of their body weight, this person achieves a measurable health benefit. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A balanced lunch should include 2oz of protein. This does not have to be meat; 1 hard boiled egg, ½ cup of yogurt, or 2tbspns of peanut butter suffices.
Nutritious lunch suggestions:
Carrot or celery sticks, apple slices, edamame, dried strawberries, blueberries, mixed berries, sugar snap peas, fruit smoothies, & grape tomatoes
Sun dried tomato & cream cheese on whole grain tortilla
Smoked turkey, cheddar cheese & apple in a wrap
Banana & soynut butter on whole grain English muffin
Our children also need more physical activity than provided by their team sports (obviously, this has not improved the reality of the stats!). They need constant movement sustained at least 30 minutes, vigorous enough to get their heart rates up. Without outdoor safety as a modern day option, fitness programs targeting childhood obesity have been developed. One such in our area is Master Karate Todd which airs on Verizon Fios (channel 477) on Saturday mornings 8:30 to 10am. This interactive work out engages children 4 to 10 years old ( Pretty Girls Sweat (as seen on youtube) was developed to mentor adolescent girls about the importance of fitness and sports participation. Each “meeting” involves (at least) one hour of hard-core working out. Remember to make room in your home for your child to be physically active & get off the couch or computer. Even if its just dancing to music in the mirror, our homes should not be so congested that the body is forced to be sedentary within it. As community leaders, we must individually challenge ourselves about our dietary choices (i.e. “what’s in your fridge?”) & level of physical activity, so that we may mirror to our children the example of fitness of which we aspire that they follow.

November 2014
Dr. Afriye Amerson