September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity is a “serious problem” across the nation that places children and adolescents at the forefront of having poor health.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile per the CDC and recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reported that in 2018 African Americans were 20 percent less likely to engage in active physical activity as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
In an article, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology noted that obesity, as many know, is a public health crisis and obese children and adults alike are at increased risk for a long list of medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, depression and cancer.
September has been designated as the month to learn about how to prevent obesity while promoting mental and physical well-being among children.
“Some features of a person’s relationship with food, such as how much, often or quickly they eat, begin to emerge very early in childhood and correlate with risks for obesity later in life,” according to the article, which added that with the right interventions, healthy habits can be started now to produce the right results later in life.
Dr. Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, pediatrician and physician champion for Childhood Wellness at the Henry Ford Health System, told the Michigan Chronicle that she has wanted to be a pediatrician since she was four years old land that desire led her to where she is today.
“I’ve had a passion for working in urban areas and serving underserved populations since medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.,” she said.
Leatherwood Cannon said that childhood obesity impacts not only a child’s physical health but their mental and emotional health.
“Obese children are at increased risk of developing conditions that traditionally affect adults like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” she said. “As a result of these diseases earlier in life, they are at greater risk of having a stroke, heart attack or kidney disease which can affect life expectancy.”
Leatherwood Cannon said that obesity can potentially affect all systems in the body.
“Children that are obese are likely to have more severe asthma, bone, and joint problems, gastrointestinal issues and hormonal abnormalities,” she said adding that emotionally, obese children are at greater risk of depression and anxiety and challenges with bullying and poor relationships at school.
How can parents make a difference in that healthy lifestyle? She said there are several ways.
“One of the most important things is to be a role model and engage your children in making the changes,” she said, adding that it is hard for children to adopt new behaviors that they don’t see them at home. “Parents shouldn’t just make changes for the child with a weight problem. I encourage parents to work toward changing the culture of the home to reflect the importance of healthy habits and lifestyle.”
She said to consider these factors at home:
- What snacks are available?
- How much television/screen time does your family have?
- Do you exercise as a family?
She added that one easy way to get started is with the healthy lifestyle message: 5-2-1-0. Five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour or more of physical activity, and zero sweetened drinks.
Leatherwood Cannon helped create a program at Henry Ford called Let’s Get Healthy!
At the end of the 10-week program, many families have made positive changes and created new goals.
“Making the changes and sustaining them helps families understand it’s possible,” Leatherwood Cannon said. “I especially like it when the kids learn new skills like reading labels and play a part in the family making healthy choices. I like to remind families that developing healthy habits is a journey. Making small changes on a consistent basis is likely to lead to changes lasting and allows time for everyone in the family to adapt.”
Dr. Wendy Miller, section head, Nutrition and Preventive Medicine and professor, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine told the Michigan Chronicle that the rate of childhood obesity continues to increase in Michigan according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.
“Similar to adults, obesity in youth is a result of genetics, environment and behaviors,” she said. “Consuming high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, such as processed snack foods and sugar-sweetened beverages leads to weight gain. Children are spending much more time in sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices than they did in the past, and subsequently getting less physical activity.”
Miller added that the home environment influences children’s choices as well.
“Parents are the providers for their children and are also role models for their children. There are less home cooked meals and more processed foods, restaurant food, and fast food consumption than in the past,” she said, adding that it starts with parents. “Teach children that sugary beverages, high-fat and high-sugar or salty snack foods are treats that should be consumed rarely rather than frequently. Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products and incorporate these into meals and snacks. Not only do these foods have health benefits, they also keep you feeling fuller longer than processed foods.”
She added that both race and socioeconomic status are associated with risk for obesity.
“Hispanic children and non-Hispanic Black children are at higher risk of obesity compared with non-Hispanic white children,” she said. “Lower socioeconomic status in regard to income and education is associated with higher risk of obesity.”