Physical activity is vitally important to maintain a healthy lifestyle for adults and children alike. The current trend has been to witness our nation’s children slip into the category of obesity at younger ages. Be it less involvement in sports activities, more time in front of screen-based activities and little emphasis on healthy eating habits, we now have a public health issue on our hands. From the 1980s – 1990’s there were significant increases in Body Mass Indices (BMI) in nearly 18% of US children.  This is nearly doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the last thirty years.4 Maintaining a healthy BMI can prevent cardiovascular (high blood pressure and cholesterol) as well as other chronic diseases (diabetes) associated with obesity.

Is my child overweight?

This is a question parents should never be afraid to ask their pediatrician. With each office visit the child’s height and weight is measured and recorded on growth charts.  Depending on the age of the child, these charts provide valuable information regarding the child’s  (BMI).  Overweight is defined as having excess body weight (from fat, muscle, water, bone or a combo thereof) for a particular height. Obesity is defined simply as having excess body fat.2  Under the age of 2 there is no standard definition of obesity; however, the child must not be in the top 5% heaviest of children for her age. For ages 2-19, pediatricians use the BMI to determine weight status. The caveat for this information is that depending on the age and sex of the child, differing percentages of body fat are deemed “normal.” It is always best to speak with your pediatrician when determining weight status and formulating plans to improve your child’s overall health.

Where do I start?

Always discuss any changes to your child’s diet and physical activity with your pediatrician.  The following is a summary of tips from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association. 1,2,3

Increasing physical activity

  • Children over the age of 2 years old should have about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per day, or at least 3 times per week. If this cannot be accomplished in one setting, try to break it up into 2-3 sessions during the day. Remember: some activity is better than no activity.
  •  Have your child perform aerobic activities such as: biking, walking, running, rollerblading, basketball, tennis, playing tag/chasing.
  •  Have your child also perform muscle strengthening activities: using your body weight as resistance, examples are push-ups(can be modified with knees on the floor), sit-ups, tree climbing, monkey bars, Theraband exercises, hand-held weights (supervised).
  •  Finally, make sure bone strengthening activities are included: hopping, skipping, running, jumping, gymnastics

Decrease the sedentary activity

  • Finally, make sure bone strengthening activities are included: hopping, skipping, running, jumping, gymnastics
  • Start with something as simple as restricting the amount of time spent on the computer, watching television, playing video games.
  • Encourage your children to participate in age-appropriate physical activities
  • Support your child in the activities that they enjoy.

Encourage good sleep habits

  • On average 8-12 hours per night is recommended depending on the age or your child.

Healthy intake

  • Discourage frequent unhealthy snacking
  • Try to establish regular meal times with the whole family
  • Encourage them to come to the grocery store and pick out a different fruit or vegetable to try every week.

Education

  • Your child needs to slowly begin to understand why eating healthy and regular exercise is important.

-Refer to this short article on how to discuss the topic of weight/healthy eating with them: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6848

Encouragement

  • Self esteem and a good body image is vitally important for your child. Be sure to build them up in this transition to a healthier life. If your child knows they have your support, they are much more likely to succeed.

References

Flynn MA, et al. “Reducing obesity and related chronic disease risk in children and youth: a synthesis of evidence with ‘best practice’ recommendations. Obes Rev. 2006 Feb;7 Suppl 1:7-66. Nutrition and Active Living, Healthy Living, Calgary Health Region, Calgary, Canada.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Physical Activity for Children” Nov. 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/children.html

American Heart Association. “Physical Activity and Children.” July 2013. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/Physical-Activity-and-Children_UCM_304053_Article.jsp

Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity and Trends in Body Mass Index Among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2010. JAMA. 2012;307(5):483-490. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.40