Here at Westchester Health, every week we see young patients who are overweight and obese, and parents who are anxious and worried. In fact, childhood obesity is one of the most common problems seen by pediatricians. Can it be reversed? Yes, overweight children can change and commit to a healthier lifestyle but it takes a coordinated effort from patients, their parents and their pediatrician. To help navigate this very important issue, we offer a recent blog by Nicholas Germanakos, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group.
There is no one cause of childhood obesity. Rather, there are many contributing factors.
- Food choices: diets high in calories (including fats and simple sugars) and lower in fruits and vegetables
- Little physical activity: lack of physical exercise, more time spent in sedentary activities such as watching TV and video games
- Parental obesity: children of obese parents are more likely to be overweight themselves. Parental obesity may also reflect a family environment that promotes excess, unhealthy eating and insufficient activity.
- Eating patterns: skipping meals or failure to maintain a regular eating schedule can result in eating too much at one time.
- Parenting style: some researchers believe that excess parental control over children’s eating can cause those children to have poor self-regulation regarding food.
- Diabetes during pregnancy: overweight and type 2 diabetes occur with greater frequency in the offspring of diabetic mothers (who are also more likely to be obese).
- Low birth weight: Low birth weight is a risk factor for being overweight in several studies.
- Excessive weight gain during pregnancy: Several studies have shown that excessive maternal weight gain during pregnancy is associated with increased birth weight and overweight later in life.
- Formula feeding: breastfeeding is generally recommended over formula feeding, and studies suggest that it may also prevent excess weight gain as children grow.
- Parental eating and physical activity habits: parents with poor nutritional habits and sedentary lifestyles model these unhealthy behaviors for their children, who often copy them in their own choices.
- Demographic factors: certain demographic factors are associated with an increased risk of being overweight in childhood. For example, there is evidence that African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander children are more likely to be overweight.
Childhood obesity has many negative consequences other than extra pounds
As well as being too many pounds overweight, childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on a child’s health and psychological well-being.
- Poor body image
- Low self-esteem
- High risk of eating disorders
- Behavior and learning problems
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
- High Total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood
- Low HDL cholesterol levels in the blood
- Sleep apnea
- Early puberty
- Orthopedic problems
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty infiltration and inflammation of the liver)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Some cancers
The good news: Obesity can be reversed and even avoided with healthy eating and exercise patterns. Here are some specific tips:
- Serve and eat a variety of foods from each food group.
- Use small portions. Compared to adult portions, child portions should be very small. More food can always be added if needed.
- Bake, broil, roast or grill meats instead of frying them.
- Limit use of high calorie, high fat and high sugar sauces and spreads.
- Use low-fat or nonfat dairy products for milk, yogurt and ice cream.
- Encourage participation in play, sports and other physical activity at school, church or community leagues.
- Be active as a family: go on walks, bike rides or hikes together.
- Limit TV time.
- Avoid eating while watching TV. TV viewers typically eat too much, too fast, and are influenced by the foods and drinks that are advertised.
- Replace sugary drinks, especially sodas, with water and/or low fat milk.
- Limit fruit juice intake to two servings or less per day (one serving = ¾ cup). Many parents allow their children unlimited intake of fruit juice because of the vitamins and minerals it contains. However, children who drink too much fruit juice may be consuming excess calories.
- Encourage free play in young children and provide environments that allow children to play indoors and outdoors.
- Model healthy dietary practices, nutritional snacks and lifestyle activities.
- Avoid using food as a reward for good behavior or good grades.
If you’re concerned that your child is overweight or obese, please come see us
If you are worried about your child’s weight and the effect it is having on his/her health, please come in and talk with one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We will meet with you and your child, assess the situation, and together with you, decide on the best course of action to steer him/her toward a healthier lifestyle, better choices and a healthier weight.
To read Dr. Germanakos’ blog in full, click here.