Childhood obesity is on the rise, and we can’t afford to sit idle and simply watch our children’s waistlines grow. In Rhode Island alone, an estimated 30.1 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are considered overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The short- and long-term impacts of obesity on our children’s health – and our nation – can be devastating. They range from greater risk of bone and joint problems to cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Obese children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, putting them at greater risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.
It’s also an epidemic of life or death. A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that children who are obese are twice as likely to die from disease before they reach age 55.
These are sobering thoughts, but the good news is obesity is preventable and reversible. And as many parents and children seek to undo unhealthy weight gain following the recent holiday season, it is an ideal time to ask ourselves: “What can we do to reverse this alarming and potentially deadly trend?”
Foremost, the home can and should play an important role. From a child’s first breath, the top priority for every parent should be to make sure the child is properly fed, which means plenty of healthful food, but not more than a youngster needs.
Early health screenings for children can also detect many potential issues, including obesity. By measuring a child’s body mass index, a doctor or nurse can detect weight issues early and help get the child on the right track through exercise and nutrition counseling, further testing or other programs aimed at preventing obesity.
Health- and human-services providers – nutritionists, schools and health care companies – can further contribute to tackling childhood obesity by helping educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and proper exercise.