The Medical Minute: Children's waistlines are a growing problem

The rate of obesity among children and adolescents has more than tripled in the past 30 years. There are about 12.5 million children and adolescents in the United States who are considered obese, a statistic that continues to rise.

Childhood obesity includes children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 and is determined by a child’s body mass index, or BMI. If a child’s BMI is at or greater than the 95th percentile for his/her height, weight, and age group, the child is considered obese.

There are several medical risks caused by obesity, including elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, Vitamin D deficiency and diabetes. For many children there are not only medical risks, but also social risks. Many overweight or obese teens get bullied or teased in school and can develop a lowered self-esteem.

Dr. Ronald Williams, a pediatric specialist at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, is trying to help children beat obesity with four important tips to healthy living that he instills in his patients every day.

-- Take the sugar out of drinks. Water is the best for the body, but when drinking soda, diet soda is better than regular.

-- Cut the TV screen time down to two hours or less per day. “Surprisingly, when you watch TV you burn fewer calories than you do sleeping,” Williams said.

-- Cut down the snacking time and make the snacks healthier, with a maximum of 100 calories. A few examples of snacks like these would be half a bagel, one cup of unbuttered popcorn, fruit, a small container of low fat yogurt, or a small half cup serving of fruit sorbet.

-- Most importantly, be active and exercise. Williams recommends that children participate in at least one hour of physical activity every day.

“Weather is no excuse not to exercise – children still have to be active inside even when it is raining, snowing or too hot outside,” he said. He recommends having something your child can do in the house as a “default” when there is bad weather. “There are many ways to exercise inside your house. Do what you can and be creative; do something fun.”

Ultimately, Williams believes the whole concept of childhood obesity has become more visible in today’s society and is glad that the cause has gained some national attention. “I think people want to be healthier,” he said. “It is hard for people to change but change is good.”

For more information check out the official website for National Childhood Obesity Awareness month:
http://www.healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org

To check your child’s BMI use this great BMI calculator from the Mayo Clinic:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Up next week: The Medical Minute tackles some prevalent myths about pain, a common side effect of many health-related issues.

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Last Updated September 07, 2012