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September 4, 2007 > Childhood Obesity - Don't Take It Lightly

Childhood Obesity - Don't Take It Lightly

Seminar Will Focus on Healthy Eating & Exercise Tips for Kids

You see it when you pass kids walking to school or hanging out at the mall: Being overweight isn't just a problem for adults anymore.
Alameda County's most recent Community Needs Assessment confirms it - nearly one-third of our kids are overweight or obese. As obesity rates in children sore, more young people are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to be associated only with adults 45 or older. And the bad news doesn't stop there.
"I see it in my practice and it's heartbreaking," says Deepti Saxena, M.D., a Fremont family practice physician on the medical staff of Washington Hospital. "More children are coming in with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the leading causes of heart attack and stroke. If this trend continues, we fear today's children will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents."
Much of this worrisome pattern comes from two unhealthy behaviors:
* Overindulgence in high sugar, high salt, high fat snack foods like chips and soda; and
* Lack of exercise because kids are spending too much time in front of the TV or computer.
Healthy solutions
If you're worried about your child's weight, or if you want to get your son or daughter on the path to a healthier lifestyle, Lorie Roffelsen, clinical registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Food and Nutritional Services department at Washington Hospital, has some tips for you:
"The first thing you should do if you think your child is overweight is to have them evaluated by your family physician or pediatrician," advises Roffelsen. "Depending on their age, weight and other health concerns, maintaining your child's weight - rather than weight loss -
may be a goal, especially if they still have many years of growth ahead."
According to Roffelsen, children should never be put on a diet. Instead, we should teach them to make sensible food choices and get involved in regular exercise, activities the whole family can enjoy.
Take a family approach
Involving the family in planning, preparing and eating foods together is one of the keys to getting kids on the path to better nutrition. One way to do this is to have your child accompany you to the grocery store so they can help select a variety of healthy, good tasting items.
"This can be especially helpful if children don't like to eat fruits and vegetables," reports Roffelsen. "When they make the choices, they are often more interested in trying the foods at home. The next step is to get them involved in preparing the food."
Encouraging your child to eat a variety of foods will also lead to a healthier diet. Various fruit and vegetables are good sources of the many different nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. So, try exposing your kids to many different food choices to widen their palate.

Eat heart healthy
"It's never too early to think about your heart," adds Roffelsen. "Cardiac disease can progress over many years, so parents should start providing a heart healthy diet for children as young as age 3."
This means eating foods that contain less fat. Children over age 1 should drink full-fat cow's milk, recommends Roffelsen. After 2, they should be weaned onto reduced fat (2%) or low-fat (1%) milk. This is actually a good habit for the entire family to follow. If your child drinks soy milk, be sure it is fortified with calcium.

More tips
And, don't forget these additional pointers to get your child on the road to a healthier lifestyle:
* Make sure your child's diet includes adequate amounts of calcium, fiber and iron from real foods. A multivitamin is not enough. "It's insurance but not a substitute for a healthy diet," says Roffelsen.
* Try to eat together as a family as much as possible, and not in front of the TV. "Studies show families who eat together tend to eat healthier. Food cues on TV can often confuse a child's normal hunger cues, leading them to want more cereals or snack foods," she adds.
* To encourage your child to be more active, limit TV and computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids watch no more than one to two hours of quality TV and videos a day with no screen time for children under 2.

Free Community Education Class

Weight Management & Healthy Diet for Children

Instructors: Deepti Saxena, M.D., family practice physician, Washington Hospital Medical Staff

Lorie Roffelsen, clinical registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator
Washington Hospital Healthcare System

When: Monday, Sept. 10, 1 to 3 p.m.

Where: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium
2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont

For more information or to register, call (800) 963-7070.

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