A growing number of children — at increasingly younger ages — are developing weight problems. This is a serious health problem, since many illnesses are associated with increased weight. Overweight kids can develop high blood pressure and diabetes, just like adults. Children may also have a more difficult time making friends, and may be teased more by peers.
Overweight children are much more likely to be overweight in adolescence and adulthood. Unfortunately, it gets harder to lose weight as one gets older. And having a parent who is overweight greatly increases a child's likelihood to become overweight. If both parents are overweight, the chances are even greater.
While there are ways to help those who are already overweight, prevention is key. The good news is, there are simple things you can do today to create a healthier family.
As the parent, you probably do the shopping for your family. Be careful what you buy, and the whole family will benefit — you may notice a lower food bill, too.
Modern lifestyles have contributed to children's weight problems — children do not walk or exercise as much as in the past. There are many ways to get more exercise, and they don't have to happen at a gym; rather, families can add more physical activity into their daily lives with fun activities that get everyone moving:
For more ideas, see Exercise Tips.
Children who watch television are more likely to develop weight problems. There are many reasons for this: Children who watch TV have a very low metabolic rate and don't use many calories. They often eat while watching, particularly high-calorie, non-nutritious foods. And of course, when children watch TV, they aren't doing other activities that burn calories.
The following TV tips can help make the whole family healthier:
A child's ideas about food and eating begin early. It's important to let infants self-regulate and stop feeding when they're full. This is often easier when breast-feeding as opposed to bottle feeding. Breast-feeding has been shown to protect children from becoming overweight.
Whether a child is breast-fed or formula fed, it is crucial to teach children healthy eating habits from the very beginning, as soon as you introduce solid foods. That said, it's important to note that there's no relationship between children's weight before age 2 and their risk of being overweight as adults. Infants should be allowed to eat when hungry and stop when full.
On the upside, introducing a child to solid foods is the perfect time for the entire family to assess what they are eating and how they are approaching food and physical activity. This way, parents can ensure that they are good role models for their children from the very beginning.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
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