We often find ourselves oooing and ahhing over those chubby-cheeked babies with rolls of fat, with every thought that they’ll grow up and outgrow that “baby fat”. In today’s society, however, we’ve discovered that sadly, and with devastating results, this is not true; childhood obesity continues to rise and it presents many dangers to our children – among them are serious health problems and lower self-esteem.
Heart disease and circulatory health are two major issues facing children that are obese. A younger child might not notice the effect of the extra weight on their overall health. Once these children become teens however these concerns will be more noticeable as they are increasingly busy with physical education classes and organized sports at school. The extra weight can create an inability or lack of desire to participate, which can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. Another aspect of this vicious cycle is the development of foot pain.
Overweight and obese children often suffer from increased foot pain. Children’s feet continue to develop until age 14 and the extra weight affects the development of the plantar fascia – the muscle from heel to toes, causing heel pain. This extra weight can also lead to flat feet; all of these painful conditions will only contribute further to the vicious cycle in which the pain results in a reluctance to exercise thus only adding to the problem of the extra weight. The development of type 2 diabetes can be a direct of result of this increased weight.
There is a distinct parallel between childhood obesity and the increase in type 2 diabetes in children. Type 2 diabetes has a life-threatening effect on some organs such as the kidneys. The effect on blood sugar can cause mood swings which create a challenging combination when coupled with the familiar hormonal changes that come with puberty. All of these physical concerns are enough to worry about for overweight and obese children, but there’s more to be concerned with, great damage to their self-esteem.
One study suggests that overweight adolescents are less likely to marry; and tend to have lower household incomes and higher rates of poverty. Obese children are also more likely to have an increased rate of teen pregnancies and alcohol/tobacco/drug use. As if these areas weren’t concern enough these children suffer a higher rate of bullying.
It is believed that prejudice against those who are overweight has become so prevalent in society, it has had a serious impact on the bullying of obese children. Research suggests that just being overweight supersedes all other factors, such as race, gender, and family income. One study even found the risk of bullying of obese children increased by 63%! With such a bleak scenario before us, you might ask, how can you help a child struggling with obesity?
Trusted adults and parents can do quite a bit, most importantly be supportive, not judgmental. Adults can shift the focus from weight to lifestyle. When a child laments their physical state, help them focus on choosing healthier foods, eating less, and moving more. Participating in physical activity games and sports with the child will help them engage in the activity and enjoy it.
Parents need to minimize their own battles with weightif they’ve struggled with weight control. You need to be honest but don’t focus on the negative. Children may feel, (especially with parents) as if there is no hope…”if my mom/dad has this struggle, then I surely will too”.
Other ways to help an obese child, are to encourage small changes: an extra vegetable/fruit in the day, water instead of soda, a 10 min. walk together every day, increasing the time from week to week. Eating together as a family for at least one meal a day with no outside influences such as TV, computer or phones, can help keep the focus on a healthy meal AND provide some quality family time.
Most importantly, do NOT let weight be the defining factor for a child. Help them focus on what’s great about them and help them understand weight is only part of who we are; it doesn’t mean it IS who we are.
Thanks for reading! Have a healthy week!
Contributors: Kim Farmer and Chantel Ayers-Kalish of Mile High Fitness. Mile High Fitness offers in-home personal training and corporate fitness solutions. Visit www.milehighfitness.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org