September 2012 Health Beat

Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley, R.N. and Grange Friend… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share!

September 2012 marks the second annual National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month which focuses public attention on the issues related to childhood obesity. It is a month to set goals for all family members that include regular physical exercise and good nutrition.

Childhood obesity is a national epidemic. Childhood obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. More than 23 million children and teens in the United States are obese or overweight. According to Maine Kids Count 2012, a project of the Maine Children’s Alliance, 12.9% of Maine children ages 10-17 are obese and 15.3% of Maine children ages 10-17 are overweight. Childhood obesity puts nearly one third of America’s children at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, heartburn and GERD, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, breathing problems like sleep apnea and asthma, and musculoskeletal and joint problems!

Many factors contribute to childhood obesity. American society promotes increased consumption of less healthy foods and physical inactivity. Many students in middle school and high school have access to sugary drinks and less healthy foods through vending machines, at sporting events, and at school parties. Many schools allow advertising of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods on school property. American media advertises less healthy foods high in sugar, salt, and fat and low in nutrients. There is limited access to healthy, affordable foods and greater availability of high calorie foods and sugary drinks, Children ages 8-18 spend over 7 hours per day watching TV, on computers, or playing video games. Many children eat meals and snacks in front of the TV. Children are exposed to ads which lead them to make unhealthy food choices. In the typical United States day, 80% of children drink sugary drinks. Fewer children are engaging in regular physical activity. Many schools are no longer offering daily physical activity. Half the children in the United States do not have a park or a community center in their neighborhood. Portion sizes have increased. Advertising promotes the “super sized” meal and portion.

If you are concerned that your child may be overweight, talk to his or her doctor. Start by making small changes and setting realistic goals. Be a good example for your child. Limit your child’s screen time. Introduce healthier food choices like fruits and vegetables instead of cookies for snacks. Pay attention to portion sizes and fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Switch to whole grain products. Limit salt. Switch to fat free or low fat milk and cheese. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Cook at home frequently. Participate in physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day.

Remember, overweight children often become overweight adults!

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