Tackling Childhood Obesity

Obesity is now among one of the most widespread medical problems for children and adolescents. The American Obesity Association reports that about 15 percent of adolescents (aged 12 to 19 years) and children (aged 6 to 11 years) are obese in the United States. Doctors say that obesity among children is one of the country's greatest health challenges.

Many health care providers define obesity in a child as weighing 20 percent or more over the healthy range. The percentage of body weight that is fat is also a good indicator of obesity. Boys over 25 percent fat and girls over 32 percent fat are considered obese.

Childhood obesity puts youngsters at risk of being overweight adults. It also presents risk factors for other serious health concerns, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Overweight children can also experience psychological side effects. Bullying and teasing by peers may lead to poor self worth and even depression.

Some experts believe that breastfeeding and delaying solid foods for infants can help prevent obesity. Teaching children how to eat healthfully as they age is another way to promote healthy weight.

Here are some additional suggestions:

* Limit the time spent watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet to no more than 7 hours per week.

* Encourage physical activity, such as sports leagues or simply playing outdoors with neighborhood friends.

* Set a good example by limiting the fattening foods you eat. Make healthy meals a family affair.

* Many people overlook the extra caloric intake of sodas and other soft drinks, not to mention the amount of sugar in these drinks. Serve water whenever possible.

* Have children avoid snacking or eating while watching television. They may eat subconsciously while distracted by the show -- and consequently eat much more than is recommended.

* Exercise as a family. Get outside and take walks, ride bicycles or swim. If exercise is done together, it's more likely to be continued.

* According to statistics, only one-third of students have regular physical activity at school. Speak to school officials about having more physical fitness incorporated into students' schedules.

* Pack your child's lunch so he is less likely to rely on processed or fast foods.

* Regular health checkups can determine if your child is in a healthy weight range. Doctors have the equipment to most accurately measure body mass index (BMI). You can also roughly calculate it at home: Multiply the child's weight in pounds by 705. Then divide by the child's height in inches. Divide this by the height in inches again.

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