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About 1 in 7 young people ages 10 to 17 in the U.S. are obese, according to a 2020 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
Early signs point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in the increased risk for obesity. Some children have lost access to healthy food. And they haven’t had as many chances to be physically active. Those things can raise a child’s risk for obesity, says the RWJF report, State of Childhood Obesity: Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic.
Childhood obesity is a serious health issue. Those early extra pounds often start children on the path to future health problems. They can also have health issues while they’re still young that were once adult problems, like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to other harmful issues, like depression and low self-esteem.
Encouraging your kids to eat healthy foods and stay active can help. It’s important to make both a priority from an early age. And be sure your child gets enough sleep. Too little sleep may raise the risk of obesity.
One of the most important things you can do is set a good example. Make healthy eating a natural part of everyday life for everyone in the family. Everyone will benefit.
It’s also important to make healthy eating easy. Have healthy snacks on hand. Try popcorn without butter, fruits, low-fat yogurt, cut vegetables with hummus or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. And don’t keep unhealthy snacks around the house. Again, everyone in the family will benefit.
Some other tips:
How much activity children need depends on their age. Preschool children should be active throughout their day. Encourage play activities that get them up and running around.
School-age children (6 to 17) should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to high intensity activity each day. A good game plan is a mix of activities. Three types of physical activity should be included each week.
It’s important to make being active a part of their normal, everyday life. The CDC suggests:
Whatever activities they do, keep your kids safe. Make sure they wear helmets or other needed safety gear.
You can also help kids avoid developing sedentary habits, like watching TV or playing video games every night after dinner. Limit screen time and help your child find fun activities to do instead. They can play on their own or with friends and family.
Be sure your child sees the doctor for a well-child health exam at least once a year. That’s a good time to talk about healthy eating and getting enough activity.
You likely know some of the roles you will need to take on when the doctor first tells you your child has diabetes. You’ll need to closely watch what your child eats and how much exercise your child gets.
But helping children understand the disease and its impact on their lives is also important. Being prepared for their questions is vital.
“Be sure to talk to your child in an age-appropriate way and to always tell the truth. And don't be put off by your child's questions — answering them can help you learn more about diabetes, too,” says KidsHealth.org
When answering questions, make sure your child knows that:
Parents also need to make sure their children get the help they need when they’re not at home. Talk to your child’s doctor to build a plan. Reach out to their school. And help your child understand how teachers, school nurses and others can help them handle their diabetes.
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