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Battling Childhood Obesity

Your child has a one in five chance of being overweight, according to new numbers released by the Department of Agriculture. There are ten million kids with serious weight problems in the United States, and our children are twice as likely to be overweight as those of previous generations.

What do you do about it? Melinda Sothern directs a pediatric weight management program at Louisiana State University Medical Center and West Jefferson Medical Center. She has some simple guidelines for parents to follow.

Sothern says, "Unless your pediatrician is alarmed because your child's weight is too high, don't worry so much about the numbers on the scale. What you should be concerned about are the eating habits and activity habits your child displays."

If your child seems lethargic and eats too much it may be a sign that he or she is headed for trouble down the road. However, "Just because they appear overweight doesn't mean they'll have a problem; babies, particularly breast-fed babies, will be chunky at age two."

You can be aware of risk to some degree. Sothern explains:
"The most important predictor of childhood obesity is obese parents. If it runs in your family, and your child constantly chooses TV and computers over any physical activity and is snacking constantly, you should intervene and change their habits."

Sothern advises parents not to impose exercise on kids, but to encourage them to play any game that gets them moving. All activity counts, and it doesn't have to be continuous. Good toys for indoor activity include a mini-trampoline, soft sponge balls, or any soft sports equipment, jump ropes, hula hoops, music for dancing.

As your kids get older, you can replace these with outdoor toys such as swing sets, basketball, skates, and monkey bars. If you don't have a yard, take them to the playground or get them into an after-school activity or sport.

How do you get your kid off the couch and away from the TV set? Sothern says you have to limit TV watching. "Make it the last thing they can do when coming home from school, not the first. They should play outside or dance or march to a Barney tapeÂ…for at least a half hour...then homework, dinner, bath; last, they can watch TV."

Other tips:

  • Don't keep snack foods in the house all the time. Buy fruits, raisins, nuts, and low fat dairy products.
  • Limit fast food restaurants. You should also limit delivery foods, which tend to be less nutritious.
  • No soda. Replace this primarily with water. Soda has no nutritional value and is high in calories. Kids can have some juice, but it should be cut with soda water or water.
  • Encourage your kids to eat vegetables. Tell them they are "grow big" foods. It's a simple concept they can understand.
  • Absolutely no eating in front of the TV. This encourages mindless overeating.
  • Be a good role model. You don't have to be in perfect shape, but practice what you preach in terms of food choices and activity levels.

Finally, Sothern says: "All parents need to think about this: Our environment promotes obesity and its habits and patterns are hard to change. Obesity is the number one disease affecting children; it cuts across all racial and financial barriers."

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