Everyone has heard about the epidemic of obesity in children in the USA. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States, who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. In 2010, more than one-third of US children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Unfortunately, if you take a simple walk around your favorite shopping mall, it will become clear that childhood obesity is rapidly becoming a problem in Thailand as well. In fact, it is a common problem facing my patients and a serious worry to their parents. Childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity. It is strongly associated with many chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and various cancers. Simply stated, being overweight is the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories burned for the amount of calories consumed—and is affected by various behavioral, genetic, and environmental factors.
So then what do to? First, it is far easier to stay at a proper weight than it is to become overweight and then try to lose it so preventive healthy lifestyles are really important starting from a young age. Second, for many years, we focused on reducing fat in the diet but solid scientific evidence points to refined carbohydrates (sugar) as being the much bigger problem. Nearly all processed foods (prepared in a factory or fast-food restaurant) have large amounts of sugar. Sodas and sweetened fruit drinks are particularly full of sugar.
Consider this. A typical can of soda or sweetened fruit drink will contain about 40 grams of sugar (typically high fructose corn syrup) that has about 150 calories. If your child drinks even one can or bottle per day, this will add 54,750 calories to her diet each year. Since there’re 3500 calories per pound of fat, that one soda per day can add 15.64 pounds per year! More, recent studies suggest that fructose is essentially a toxin or poison at the cellular level; it is bad for you in more ways than gaining weight and should be carefully restricted in our diets. Unfortunately, most processed foods contain high levels of fructose sweeteners.
So what foods have good sources of carbohydrates for your child? Good carbohydrates include those that are naturally occurring (not from a factory or machine) and full of fiber. These are calories that get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in our blood sugar levels. Good examples include whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits.
So how can you help your child lose weight? Well, parents need to lead by example, be consistent and pay careful attention to the family diet. Healthy lifestyle choices become lifelong habits that your children will follow into their adulthood!
Here are a few great steps to take.
• Exercise every day with your child: Go for a walk, play a sport, go swimming, ride a bike!
• Turn off the television! Limit video games to no more than 1 hour per day
• Take the stairs (not the lift) if you are going up 4 flights or less
• Eliminate sodas and sugary fruit drinks from the diet entirely
• Eliminate sweetened cereals, cookies and cakes prepared in a factory
• Avoid fast-food restaurants entirely!
• Replace white bread and rice with whole-grain bread and brown rice
• Increase the number of vegetables in the family diet
• Buy fresh, whole foods. Anything with a long list of ingredients is not likely to be good for you.
Finally, remember that the excess weight did not appear overnight and will take time to come off! It is better to lose weight gradually while making these new healthy food and exercise choices into solid lifelong habits. Be steady and consistent – daily exercise and careful reduction in sugar- and in nearly all cases the weight will come off, and stay off.