Obesity is almost at epidemic proportions; it has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years nationwide. Rosa Cataldo, DO, MPH, Director of the Healthy Weight & Wellness Center at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, says that the most effective approach to addressing weight loss in children are lifestyle-based modifications that involve parents.
"Childhood obesity is a serious - and growing - problem in the United States, so parents should be concerned about their child's weight," says Dr. Cataldo, "We are not talking about a few extra pounds, but rather a condition that can have a negative effect on a child's overall health."
At Stony Brook's Healthy Weight & Wellness Center, it starts with a medical assessment and monitoring. At the heart of the program are nutrition and activity level changes. Specialists work to educate the family on meal planning, label reading, food choices and recipe modifications. Fit Kids for Life, a proactive program run by Peter Morelli, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist and Medical Director, also works to improve patients' overall fitness level and calorie burning activity.
As winter transitions into spring, Dr. Cataldo stresses that now is a great time to make changes for your entire family. These are her top four tips for parents and children getting healthy together:
1.Go Outside: Being outside is an easy way to make exercise feel effortless. Bike riding, playing soccer and fooling around on a playground are just a couple of ways to play as a family. Dr. Morelli adds that kids should wear a pedometer to track their physical activity and help make sure they take at least 10,000 steps a day.
2.Stay Hydrated: Be mindful to drink water throughout the entire day, especially after exercising. Stay away from giving children sugary beverages, including juices, sodas and sports drinks.
3.Choose Fresh: This is the easiest time of the year to eat fresh foods. Head to a local farmer's market where fruits and veggies are in season and cheaper. Embrace seasonal salads and grilling on the barbecue. After fresh vegetables, frozen is the second best option.
4.Read Labels: Label reading is important year around, but checking ingredients is often a forgotten step. Make sure to pay attention to the order of the ingredients; if sugar is one of the first three listed, it's too high in sugar. Rethink the product if there's a long, laundry list of ingredients, especially with long, complicated names.
The bottom line is that obese children grow into obese adults, who can develop a long list of life-threatening illnesses or conditions that impair quality of life. However, parents can break the pattern. With early involvement, parents can set the example to help their children get and remain healthy through adulthood.