Fighting Childhood Obesity a Family Affair
September 1, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Obesity rates in children have soared over the last four decades, with an estimated 23 million children and teens in the United States considered either obese or overweight. It's all the more reason for the first-ever National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, which kicks off today.
Dr. Sarah Hampl, medical director of weight management programs at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, says she can't stress enough that children need balanced meals as well as regular physical activity – and most can't do it alone.
"We know that it really isn't very successful or sustainable for kids to make these lifestyle changes by themselves when the rest of the family is not on board."
According to Hampl, contributing factors to obesity include too much "screen time" in front of televisions and computers, drinking too many sugary drinks, skipping breakfast, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and eating too many meals outside the home.
She knows that keeping kids healthy can be difficult when socioeconomic factors are part of the equation. For some families, the closest food may be at a convenience store and there are few opportunities for physical activity in some neighborhoods.
"Families that are in lower-income communities are less willing to let their kids go outside by themselves. So, they have to stay inside, and one of the main things that lots of kids do when they're confined indoors is watch TV."
She also points out that even children who are active often spend mealtimes in the car and on the go, which makes it difficult to have strong and healthy bodies.
"So, while we've encouraged the physical activity, we want to make sure that they're fueling their bodies with the healthiest items that they can."
Hampl manages the "PHIT" program at Children's Mercy, which stands for "Promoting Health in Teens and Kids." She says kids who are part of the program have shown significant decreases in body mass index, triglyceride levels and sugared beverage consumption. Their long-term fitness progress, she adds, will be a family affair.