Childhood Obesity Changing Habits Can Save Lives

As childhood obesity rates continue to soar, so too do associated illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and asthma. Kids today are at risk for chronic diseases at earlier ages than ever before and it is up to us as caregivers to educate them about making the right choices with regards to healthy food and exercise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades and researchers estimate that the annual health spending on obesity and its related disorders is $150 billion. Obesity is costly, in terms of dollars and life expectancy.

Teach Better Choices

Children are vulnerable to the aggressive marketing campaigns targeted at them by influential junk food companies, frequently through children’s channels on TV. In order to mitigate these issues, our efforts should focus on the education of the next generation to include making healthy food. Parents must make fruits and vegetables more accessible, encourage them to be the snack of choice and remind kids of their benefits.

Asthma: No Excuse

Nationally, approximately one in 10 children suffer from asthma. Children with asthma generally have a higher weight than children without asthma. In the past, it had been thought that children with asthma experienced limitation in their exercise capacity, which led to an increase in their weight, contributing to their overweight status.

At The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore we have conducted research, which shows that this may not be the case. We found that exercise capacity in obese asthmatic children with well-controlled asthma was associated with their body mass index, not their lung function. It is known that when a child’s asthma is well controlled, it should not hamper their ability to be active. Our findings add further support to this concept and provide evidence that when asthma is controlled all children can be as active as they want to be.

All children with asthma should use medications to get their asthma under control and be encouraged to be physically active. We need to let kids know that fitness can be fun, particularly by encouraging participation in group-related activities. Another way to encourage exercise is to bring out kids’ competitive edge – siblings often want to challenge each other and what better way to do that than through sprint races and obstacle courses. Obesity prevention is a team effort. It requires work from parents, pediatricians and children, but it is feasible and the long-term rewards are undeniable.

Make Positive Lifestyle Choices

Encourage all children with asthma to take appropriate medications to bring their asthma under control and then encourage them to take part in physical activities.

All children should make healthy food choices and eat appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables every day.

Physical activity should be made fun and an imperative part of every child’s daily life.

Parents should also be physically active and set an example for their children. Organizations such as YMCA and other gyms offer several family programs including family swim times.

Deepa Rastogi, MBBS, MS, is an Attending Physician, Division of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Asthma Center at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. www.montekids.org.