When will they stop making fun of me?
Every parent of an overweight child knows how difficult that particular heartbreaking question is to handle.
Such ridicule is becoming far more commonplace these days.
It's not surprising when one considers that according to the 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 13 percent of children ages 6-11 years and 14 percent of adolescents ages 12-19 years are overweight. This represents a discouraging 2-3% increase over estimates from 1988-1994.
Yet when we compare our present data with 1963-1970 estimates, we face the shock of a roughly 300% increase in overweight children and adolescents over the last 40 years. These findings clearly herald the dramatic rise in the incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious weight-related health problems that affect the 54.9% of overweight American adults.
The cutoff criteria for being considered overweight has been established by a leading panel of experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Children who exceed the 95% percentile on the Body Mass Index (BMI) for Age growth charts are considered overweight. BMI is expressed as weight/height2 (kg/m2).
Despite the fact that it's easy to identify overweight kids even without mathematical computations, we don’t seem to be doing much about the problem. That's precisely why I chose to focus on this issue.
There's no better time than this summer to help make a difference in your child’s life. Consider these two scenarios:
School's out. Tommy, an 8 year-old, is delighted with a 3 month break from classes. Let’s follow him through a typical summer day.
After sleeping in 'til 11:00, he gets out of bed and meanders into the kitchen. Mom and dad have already left for work. Breakfast is whatever's easy. Today some left-over pizza from last night, washed down with some soda pop will do.
Next, it's to the couch for the latest in cartoons and children’s daytime television. Forget lunch, Tommy ate a late breakfast. It's 1:00 when the decision is made to venture outdoors. After walking half a block, he meets some friends who decide to "hang out" and play video games. They're obviously not into sports. By 3:00, the kids are hungry, so they grab a quick snackæ Twinkies, and an ice cream bar at a local convenience store.
Low on energy, it's back home for more afternoon TV along with chips, dip and a nap. His older brother returns home around 5:00 with a fast-food snack for him. Mom and dad arrive by 6:00, yet the family doesn't eat together anymore - they can't imagine why their children aren't hungry around dinner time.
Tommy retires to an evening on the couch with dad. After 8 total hours of television, and enough junk food to fill the commercials, it's time to turn in. You wouldn't be surprised to learn that this 8 year-old is 30 pounds overweight and exhausted most of the time.
Now let's consider the second scenario.
Jane is an 8 year-old who is also overweight. Yet she's especially excited about her vacation from school. She calls this her "Summer of Change."
This year, Jane isn't allowed to sleep in. Both of her parents work. They awaken her at 7:30 each day. Upon entering the kitchen, she immediately notices a well-balanced family breakfast - fruit, cereal, juice and skim milk. Mom and dad are concerned about their health and are watching their weight as well. Before leaving for work, mom reviews Jane's schedule for the day and reminds her to take the healthy lunch and snacks she just packed.
After breakfast, Jane gets dressed and proceeds to her chores around the house. By 8:30, Mrs. Smith (a member of the summer car pool) honks her horn and Jane is off to a church camp where the next few hours are spent hiking though the woods. By 10:30, it's snack time and Jane reaches into her bag for an apple and some bottled water. The remainder of the morning is spent reviewing and discussing the plants collected on the hike.
Her packed lunch includes a nutritious selection of vegetables, grains and fruit. After enjoying a short rest period, Jane’s spends the next few hours playing softball. During a quick break, she enjoys a granola bar. Then it's off to swimming with her friends. Arriving home by 4:30, she's immediately greeted by mom who takes her to a local wellness center where a follow-up has been scheduled with a nutritionist. Jane weighs in and her body fat percentage is calculated. Smiles fill the room as she's congratulated with a loss of 6 pounds and a 3% reduction of body fat.
Dinner is spent with mom, dad and her sister. Great news from the nutritionist calls for a celebration - a low fat delicious dessert mother prepared for the occasion. The evening is spent mowing the lawn with dad, followed by watching her favorite television show. By 10:00, it's lights out as she looks forward to another great day. It's hard to stop thinking about what her schoolmates and teachers will say when they see the "New Jane" in the Fall.
The stark contrasts between these two scenarios are intended to illustrate a number of insights which have the potential to change your child's life this summer:
- Proper diet and exercise are family matters - make time to eat together.
- Limit junk foodæ prepare a healthy lunch and snacks ahead of time, and ensure eating at proper intervals.
- Structure daily activities for your children as worthwhile investments in their physical and emotional health.
- Limit couch potato behavioræ be creative and expand possibilities for exercising your child’s body and mind.
- Ensure a rational sleep scheduleæ a balance is necessary for restoring energy needed for daily activities.
- Invest time with your childrenæ you can make all the difference in their world.
- Seek the help of a registered dietitianæ follow appropriate guidelines.
- Reward your child for successæ building self-esteem is a great way to condition healthy behaviors for life.
The bottom line is simple. While you might be saying to yourself that the second scenario is unrealistic in our highly pressured fast-paced society, you can take some simple steps to help change your child's life now. Realize the stakes are high - health, happiness and self-esteem are on the line. Know you can start today. Imagine the difference this summer can make - Mind Over Matter!
Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Health Examination Survey (NHES) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)
©2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved