Ignoring Childhood Obesity Can Lead to Long-Term Health Problems

Ignoring Childhood Obesity Can Lead to Long-Term Health Problems

Parents, take heed! Our children's eating habits and lack of exercise is putting them at risk for obesity and chronic disease. See how you can start making changes today.

By Jane Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth

Everyone knows that eating a bag of potato chips or devouring a man-sized portion of chocolate cake is not part of a healthy diet. Yet, we do it all the time...and our kids copy us.

America's bad eating habits are taking their toll on the younger generation. One third of American children today are either obese or at risk for obesity.

And studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.

Children's health at stake
Just like adults, children do not escape the health problems that go along with being overweight. The health consequences of childhood obesity can include:

  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Breathing problems and asthma
  • Poor self-esteem

Doctors are even seeing a rise in the percentage of children at risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome occurs in adults when at least three risk factors are present. These risks may include:

  • Abdominal obesity
  • Low HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • High fasting glucose
  • High blood pressure

If your child has these risk factors, he or she has increased risk for heart disease and stroke as they get older and diabetes even as a child.

Take a positive approach with your child
Though some kids may be predisposed to being heavy, excess weight gain is largely due to poor behaviors. Unhealthy eating and lack of exercise usually top the list.

It's up to parents to take an active part in their child's path to a healthier weight and lifestyle. In most cases, this does not include putting your child on a "diet." Many overweight children, with exercise and good eating habits, will grow into their weight. It's important to focus more on healthy eating habits and exercise versus strict calorie restriction. If these measures do not seem to be helping, talk to your doctor about the next step. Do not place your child on any weight-loss or calorie restricted diet unless under a doctor's supervision.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1. It's a family affair. First and foremost, be a good role model. You need to practice healthy behaviors if you expect your kids to do the same.

2. Cut down on unhealthy fats. Try low-fat dairy products, poultry without skin and lean meats to get flavor without a lot of calories. At the same time, include small amounts of healthy fats, such as natural peanut butter, a handful of nuts or a slice of avocado in a salad or sandwich.

3. Give kids access to healthy foods. Sliced fruits and veggies, whole-grain cereals, lean cold cuts and vegetable or bean soups are some healthy choices. Kids can grab these snacks easily from the fridge or pantry.

4. Be smart when eating out. Order two entrees and put them in the middle of the table so that every meal is a shared family meal. This also helps avoid the fried foods on most children's menus.

5Get moving. Exercise is critical to weight control. Encourage informal play every day. Go skating, take a walk, rake leaves or clean the house with your kids. Try to get them involved in a physical activity that they might enjoy. This could be anything from fencing or ballet, to basketball, karate or soccer.

6. Turn off the TV. Never eat in front of the TV. While you're at it, encourage your children to do something active instead of watching TV or playing video games.

If life-changing habits seem overwhelming, take it one step at a time. Try downsizing snacks, limiting soda or incorporating a daily walk every day. Every little bit you do promotes your children's health and well-being - now and for the rest of their lives.


  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Obesity in children and teens. Accessed: 01/22/2009
  • Steinberger J, Daniels SR, Eckel RH, et al. Progress and challenges in metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents. Circulation. 2009;119. Accessed: 01/22/2009
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Helping your overweight child. Accessed: 01/22/2009
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Surgeon General. Overweight and obesity: health consequences.Accessed: 01/21/2009

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