Childhood Obesity Begins in Infancy
Obesity Usually Begins With Toddlers
Childhood obesity, which is defined as a child with extra body fat, has more than tripled over the past 30 years beginning in infancy according to the CDC; the CDC states 1 in 5 children between ages 6 and 19 are officially obese.
Childhood obesity is the biggest pediatric problem in the USA, as even 18.4 percent of children from 2 and 5 years old are obese. Children who have obese parents are 75% more likely to become obese.
A South Carolina woman lost custody of her 14 year old son after being charged with child neglect when the boy’s weight reached 555 pounds, and this has happened in other states as well. Parents are ultimately responsible for the health and welfare of their children.
Parents need education about the dangers for their children regarding proper nutrition and exercise; and, the quality of the many school lunches still need improvement. They are more often based on budget than on quality nutrition. There has been a trend of removing soft drink dispensers out of schools, which is a good first step.
The reason children are becoming obese is the same reason adults do, they take in more calories than they burn which results in a caloric imbalance. Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term consequences. These children have a greater risk of social and psychological problems.
Additionally, obese children often carry that problem into adulthood, which make them more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a higher risk for all cardiovascular diseases, a higher blood pressure, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.
Consequences of Childhood Obesity
States vary as to childhood obesity rates. For instance, the children in Utah have the lowest rate at 19.2 percent, and Tennessee is the highest at 37.7 percent.
Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term consequences. These children have a greater risk of bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, plus social and psychological problems.
Additionally, obese children often carry that problem into adulthood, which make them more likely to develop the following health problems:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Risk for all cardiovascular diseases, including strokes
- High blood pressure
- Several types of cancer
- Osteoarthritis and other joint problems
Stand and Learn
Dr. James A. Levine, is an Mayo Clinic obesity expert and tried a student classroom with standing desks in 2006. It is complete with “standing” desks and a whole host of sophisticated learning technologies. They have found the children were eager to learn the new way, and they burned more calories while standing.
They accomplished this task by assembling various businesses to furnish desks to the new school. The Rochester Athletic Club built an indoor village to house the school. Apple provided iBook wireless notebook computers and iPods that played videos with America on the move, which is a community based advocacy organization that is raising awareness of the concept. Numerous teachers applied for an opportunity to work with this new concept. The children activity is monitored by the Mayo Clinic team by special telemetry.
Each child will wore a PAD on his or her leg, which measured the time spent standing and walking. Mayo has since started a number of research projects on Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the production of heat, especially by physiological processes, starting with 3-4 year-olds. Other schools have adopted new style classrooms since this initial project.
NEAT is actually the calories burned when not exercising, which includes things like walking from the car to the school, doing simple chores or maybe standing while doing an art project.
The Beginning of Obesity
When does obesity in children really begin? Even the health of a two year old is closely tied to how much he eats, along with his activity level. The American Heart Association (AHA) has established guidelines developed for children.
The AHA has found that the intake of saturated fats has improved, but obesity has continued to be a problem. Apparently the children are still too inactive while eating more calories then required, but perhaps the food is a bit healthier. The eating habits of a child begin when they are toddlers.
The general dietary guidelines of the AHA for infants and young children stress their diet should primarily rely on:
- Fruits and vegetable
- Whole grains
- Low-fat and non-dairy products
- Lean meat
The things to avoid include: saturated and trans-fats, cholesterol, added sugar and salt. They also recommend that the children are active, which is usually typical of toddlers anyway.
Milk Substitute and Snacks
I raised 3 boys and I know these recommendations are easier said than done. Toddlers are often picky about what they eat, and sometimes they don’t want to eat at all. I didn’t know all this information when my children were young, although I tried to feed them balanced meals.
Children need a balanced diet, which means eating a proper amount and variety of nutritious foods. This also means eating a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins build muscles,carbohydrates provide the body with energy and fats provide long-lasting energy.
So, how can we follow the guidelines of the American Heart Association with regard to milk? The AHA suggests 2% milk. Once a child is weaned, they still need a lot of calcium and vitamin D. Enfamil and some other formulas are now made with soy milk.
Many children have a milk intolerance, as lactose intolerance is much more common now, so soy, almond or coconut milk is an alternative. If soy milk is the only type of milk your child has ever drank, they will not miss cow’s milk. However, soy milk is low in fat, and it isn’t recommended for your child's fat intake as it is limited until they are 2 or 3 years old. Goat's milk is another possibility, however, it lacks iron, folate and Vitamin B12 unless it is fortified, so read your labels.
Other foods that have a good amount of calcium include yogurt, fortified orange juice, bread (Kid’s Iron Bread) and American cheese. They receive up to 350 mg of calcium per slice of bread. If your child has a true allergy to cow’s milk they are likely to have the same problem with goat’s milk. Fortified cereals may add a lot of nutrients to your child’s diets.
As allergies are also more common, science recommends that you rotate your child’s food so they do not eat the same thing too many days in a row. According to some research eating something every fourth day will help prevent allergies.
Snacks are another problem as children love candy, cookies and ice cream, just to name a few. The first obvious choice would be to try to use fruit. Children often like finger foods, so grapes, berries, raisins, other dried fruit, and fruit that is cut up into bite size pieces may be more acceptable to your toddler. If you want to let them have ice cream, try frozen yogurt instead.
Children like granola type bars, and they are available in lower fat concentrates now. Common sense and moderation should rule the choices. Not keeping high calorie sweets in the house makes it easier to control what your child eats
Child Eating Ear of Corn
As Children Age
Once you child reaches the age where they are playing with other children in the neighborhood you might talk to the parents of a playmate to let them know you don’t want your child to have certain foods. Hopefully by that time the child will like the diet at home and be less inclined to try foods they are not familiar with.
Most children will certainly like candy, but you could choose raisins for instance. At least they would be getting some fruit with their chocolate. Chocolate has a lot of flavonoids and is not all bad in moderation.
In summary, we need to look at new options to help prevent childhood obesity. Begin using healthy food choices in infancy. It is not always easy, but the goal is to raise a healthy, happy child, that is free of disease if possible. Keeping your child active is so important. Limit TV and computer time.
If you remember that childhood obesity begins in infancy it will help you as a parent to curb the problem before it starts.
The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.