Dear Doc: I have a grandchild who is overweight. Her mom, my daughter, doesn’t seem to do much about it. I’m not sure why, but both she and her husband are overweight, too. Maybe that’s the problem. — Concerned Grandmother
Dear Grandmother: You’re right to be concerned. We have an epidemic in this country that strikes me as a doctor when I do well child checks in my office: childhood obesity. What used to be an uncommon problem has now become mainstream.
In 1978, one out of 20 kids was obese. According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that has jumped to — now, get this — one out of five. That’s an astounding difference.
This is something every parent and every grandparent, too, should be aware of right now. It’s becoming commonplace to be overweight, which sets our kids up for all sorts of problems when they’re older. With everything from premature heart disease to diabetes, obesity is right up there as a risk factor.
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And that doesn’t even begin to address angst in children and teens about body image. An overweight child can struggle with this for years.
What to do? It’s not easy, but we have to start somewhere. That’s where the CDC comes in, with a variety of recommendations.
No. 1: Eat the rainbowGetting your kids to eat in a healthy way matters. A diet rich in colorful fruits and veggies is the key. Whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products — all of these will cut down on calories.
Just 2% of high school kids ate enough veggies. Put another way, 98% of high schoolers are flunking basic nutrition. And 93% didn’t eat enough fruit. Awful numbers here.
No. 2: Move moreKids who play outside and who do sports typically have lower body weight, stronger bones, and weigh less. Regular activity for your child means an hour a day.
Compared to those who are inactive, physically active youth have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular fitness. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones.
Regular physical activity in childhood also reduces the risk of depression. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Overweight kids usually are not in this active group. Sign them up for something where they move their bodies and make it happen.
No. 3: Toss the sugarKids under 2 should have no added sugar to anything they eat. That means no sugary cereals (look in the cereal aisle like I did, and you’ll see them everywhere), and no sugar on top of cereal.
As for drinks, that’s where sugars abound. Pure orange juice is loaded with too much sugar. It may seem healthy, but it’s not. It’s too concentrated. Water it down 50% and you’ll have a healthier drink for your child. Better yet, just give them water at meal time.
The same is true of milk. It’s good in moderation. In their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the CDC recommends children age 2 through 12 get 1 to 2 cup equivalents of dairy a day, including cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soy milk or soy yogurt.
If kids drink too much milk, they’re often not hungry for other foods that are more important. Don’t think more milk is better; instead, think that the right amount of milk is best. And even in the Dairy State, an 8 oz. glass of milk with each meal is too much.
No. 4: Reduce screen timeThere’s a magic button on every screen, every TV, every phone, every computer. It’s called the “off switch.”
The average adult and kid spends seven hours a day being sedentary. Sitting in front of a screen too much is a major problem with kids. Playing video games is not the same as playing “capture the flag,” a game our granddaughter has played at summer camp.
Pull the plug and push kids outside. By the way, too much screen time is associated with poor sleep, lower grades in school and poorer mental health. And that doesn’t include the cyber bullying that’s a big problem with social media.
enough sleepLet’s talk rest. Kids age 6 to 12 need nine to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and kids 13 to 18 need eight to 10 hours. Too little sleep is associated with obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and play less.
Get that screen out of the bedroom and your kids will sleep better. Best of all, set a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
So, concerned grandma, my final advice is that kids imitate adults. They look to their parents as role models, even if they never say so.
If your daughter and son-in-law follow the same advice I’m giving, their kids have a better chance of getting to the right weight. It takes a village to raise a child — it takes role models to show your child the right way to live. Stay well.
This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.