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PREVIEW: Sizing Up – Why Are Our Kids Getting So Fat? By Dr. Diana Fatayerji, M.S., Ph.D.

Most of us are aware that the incidence of childhood obesity has increased. Is this something we should be concerned about? As parents we face concerns for our children over alcohol, drugs, sex and bullying. Does obesity merit the same concern?

In 2002 the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that 15.5% of children were seriously overweight, with another 15% at risk of becoming so. This is triple the rate of only 20 years earlier. If this trend continues it is estimated that by 2020 a fifth of all boys and a third of all girls will be obese.

Obesity is associated with a wide variety of health problems. These include diabetes, stroke, heart disease, breathing difficulties during sleep, gallstones, osteoarthritis, cancer, and a reduced life expectancy. In addition, obesity impacts emotional health through low self-esteem and poor social life. With these statistics it is obvious that changes are needed. However, weight management is never easy and it can be a very emotive subject.

How we address childhood obesity needs the cooperation of parents, educators and governmental regulatory bodies. Changes implemented now will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Why are our children becoming obese?
Some people claim that weight is genetic. Although genetics can play a role, the recent increase in obesity has been too rapid to be the result of genetics. It actually comes down to lifestyle—eating too many high calorie foods together with low activity levels.

With the advent of single parent families, or with both parents working, meal times come down to convenience. This includes fast food, restaurants, take-out and prepared or frozen dinners. These foods are quick, fit the budget and meet the child’s preferences.

However, the portion sizes are too large and the foods are generally high in fats and sugars, and low in nutrition.

A child’s taste preference is acquired. If a child is brought up eating whole grains, vegetables and fruits then she will enjoy these foods. If a child is accustomed to eating processed foods with added fats, sugar and salt then he will find healthy foods bland. It is much easier to start healthy habits early than to change bad habits later on. It takes a conscious effort on behalf of the parent to provide healthy meals, especially when their child requests the food or snacks she saw advertised on the television. Offering healthy alternatives can be challenging.

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