We all want our children to follow in our footsteps, but if that means those footprints are “deeper” than they should be, that’s not a good thing. The CDC reported that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Like their parents, these kids have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, not to mention the social and psychological issues that go along with being “that kid.” There are many contributing factors to this rising problem. Diet is obviously the biggest problem. The average American kid is snacking continually throughout the day, with snacks accounting for up to 27% of their daily calorie intake. And, you can bet these snacks aren’t apples and carrot sticks. Kids are guzzling soda and munching on candy, chips, and baked goods. Between 1977 and 2006, kids went from eating an average of 168 calories to 586 calories a day from snacks alone!
Like a poor diet, a lack of exercise is a key cause of obesity. With tablets, video games, TVs, and smart phones, it’s getting harder and harder to keep kids moving. Unlike an adult’s idea of exercise, think treadmills and weights, kids just need to get outside and run around. Even enrolling them in a dance or sporting program will keep them active both physically and socially. With regular exercise children lower their blood pressure, reduce their blood cholesterol levels, and it helps them sleep better.
Two other factors that play a role in childhood obesity are sleep and genetics. Some kids are at a greater risk of being obese simply because of their genetic makeup. If a child’s parents or immediate family tend to gain weight easily, a child may have the same genetic disposition for weight gain. However, even genetics cannot cause obesity alone. To become obese, children must eat more calories than they need for growth and daily energy. And don’t discount a good night’s sleep. Not many people think of sleep as being a cause of obesity, but a review of studies in the Archives of Disease in Childhood reported that fatigue alters the levels of the hormones that regulate appetite in kids, which can cause them to eat more than they need. It’s important to stick to regular sleep and wake-up times that provide kids with enough time to get in a full night of sleep. Create a calming bedtime routine, meaning no caffeinated drinks, have them close the tablet, turn off the video game, and cell phone at least an hour before bedtime, and make sure their room is dark and cool to help them drift off to sleep.