Rates of obesity and overweight, leading risk factors for heart disease have risen dramatically over the past 10 years. Over the last two decades, the rates for overweight children have doubled, so that today one-third of children in the United States are overweight.
Obesity is bad news for both body and mind. Not only does it make a person feel tired and uncomfortable, it can wear down joints and put extra stress on other parts of the body. When a person is carrying extra weight, it’s harder to keep up with friends, play sports, or just walk between classes at school. It is also associated with breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea and problems with hips and knee joints that may require surgery.
Being overweight increases a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other serious medical conditions that impact quality of life and have substantial economic consequences for our healthcare system.
There can be more serious consequences as well. Obesity in young people can cause illnesses that once were thought to be problems only for adults, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol levels, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes, a disease in which the body has trouble converting food to energy, resulting in high blood sugar levels. As they get older, people who are obese are more likely to develop heart disease, congestive heart failure, bladder problems, and, in women, problems with the reproductive system. Obesity also can lead to stroke, greater risk for certain cancers such as breast or colon cancer, and even death.
In addition to other potential problems, people who are obese are more likely to be depressed. That can start a vicious cycle: When people are overweight, they may feel sad or even angry and eat to make themselves feel better. Then they feel worse for eating again. And when someone’s feeling depressed, that person is less likely to go out and exercise.
The best way to avoid these health problems is to maintain a healthy weight. And the keys to healthy weight are regular exercise and good eating habits.
The epidemic rate of obesity in this country is a major problem. However, it is important to recognize that obesity in many cases can be a preventable health condition. While many factors including genetic predisposition contribute to obesity, dietary behaviors and rates of physical activity are two major factors that can be modified.
Schools, families, and communities can work together to alter the trend toward obesity. Teaching about healthy diet and the importance of maintaining a health activity level to young children is important as obesity is more easily prevented than treated. It is important to begin prevention efforts early in childhood because obesity in adolescence is the strongest predictor of obesity in adulthood.
There is no doubt that the problem we face today is related to our modern western environment. We live in a world of plentiful and attractive energy dense foods, and a working and leisure environment that encourages sedentary behavior. Solutions will require involvement within our communities at many levels.
Solutions need to range from legislation to protect our children from the bombardment of advertising from processed food manufacturers, and provision of achievable physical activity guidelines for our kindergartens and schools as an essential part of the daily activities, to local town planning of our living environments to provide attractive, safe, user friendly areas for active leisure and physical activity.
Whether you’re at risk of becoming obese, currently overweight or at a healthy weight, you can take steps to prevent obesity and the associated health problems.
Not surprisingly, the steps to prevent weight gain are the same as the steps to lose weight: Daily exercise, a healthy menu, a long-term commitment and constant vigilance.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent weight gain is to exercise regularly. Studies suggest that it takes 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity daily to keep the pounds off. Moderately intense physical activities include fast walking and swimming.
Enjoy healthy meals and snacks
Focus on low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Keep saturated fat low and limit sweets and alcohol. Remember that no one food offers all the nutrients you need. Choose a variety of foods throughout the day. It’s not out of the question to eat and enjoy small amounts of high-fat, high-calorie foods on occasion. But the main thing is that you choose foods that promote a healthy weight and good health more often than you choose foods that don’t.
Know and avoid the food traps that cause you to eat
Know which situations trigger out-of-control eating for you. The best way to identify food traps and emotionally triggered eating is to keep a journal. For as long as you find it helpful, write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling and how hungry you are. After a while, you should see some patterns emerge. Once you know these patterns and triggers, you can plan ahead and develop a strategy for how you’ll handle these types of situations. This will help you understand and stay in control of your eating behaviors.
Monitor your weight regularly
People who weigh themselves at least once a week are more successful in keeping off the pounds. Monitoring your weight can tell you whether your efforts are working and can help you detect small weight gains before they become larger.
Sticking to your healthy-weight plan during the week, the weekends, and amidst vacation and holidays as much as possible increases your chances of long-term success.
If you really want to prevent weight gain, the best approach is to focus on lifestyle changes and develop an eating plan that’s enjoyable, yet healthy and low in calories. This approach results in weight loss that you can live with — that is, that you can maintain over a long period of time.
You must also think that an unhealthy life style also affects your children.
Here are some tips to prevent your children from becoming obese:
- Limiting the number of calories that your child drinks. For example, many kids drink too much juice and soda each day. Sticking to the usual recommend limits of 4-6 ounces of 100% fruit juice for children under age 6 years and only 8-12 ounces for older children can help to limit excessive weight gain.
- Limiting the amount of milk that younger children drink. Although drinking milk is important and it is a good source of calcium, too much milk can lead to your child becoming overweight. Obesity often starts in early childhood, with a common scenario being a child who drinks too much milk. Children usually only need about 16-24 ounces of milk each day.
- Avoiding frequent meals of fast food.
- Don’t ‘super size’ your child’s meals. A common problem that contributes to overweight children is meals with portions that are too large.
- Don’t force younger children to ‘clean their plates.’ An important way to help children learn to eat healthy is for them to know that they can stop eating when they are full.
- Encourage regular exercise and physical activity in your children each day. This may include going for walks as a family, playing outside, riding a bike, or participating in organized sports, like soccer and baseball.
- Limit inactivity by setting strict limits on watching television and playing computer and video games.
- Avoiding allowing your children eat while watching TV. Instead, limit meals to the dinner table.