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Published on June 14, 2018

How to Prevent Child Obesity and Help Your Child Stay Healthy

How to Prevent Child Obesity and Help Your Child Stay Healthy

Childhood obesity is an issue of major significance in developed and developing countries, owing mostly (but not entirely) to the ready availability of unhealthy foods. Although no parent intentionally wants to make their children overweight or obese, studies have confirmed that one in five American children are clinically obese as early on as primary school.[1]

Apart from the fact that child obesity increases the chances of being overweight during teenage years and adulthood, it has also been linked to social problems and a plethora of diseases. As parents, a proactive approach must be employed to deter the early onset of obesity in our children.

Here’s the good news, though, obesity can be avoided and if your child is already obese, it can be corrected.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the factors that dispose children to obesity, its health implications and how to identify obesity. I’ll also be discussing practical steps that will help you prevent or correct obesity in your kids, so be sure to stick around and finish the article!

How to know if your child is overweight or obese?

Figuring out whether or not your child is overweight isn’t always an easy task mainly because kids grow at different rates and the amount of body fat changes with age. According to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice, an astounding 80% of parents claim that their children had normal weight when they were actually obese.[2]

A reliable way of telling if your child is actually overweight or obese is by calculating their individual body mass index (BMI). BMI measures the body weight in relation to height. BMI calculators utilize a formula that generates a score which is used to classify the owner into obese, overweight, normal weight or underweight.

The BMI for children and teenagers is categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using a metric called percentile. Below are the different BMI percentile ranges and what it means.

  • 5th to 84th percentile: healthy weight
  • 85th to 94th percentile: overweight
  • 95th to 99.99th percentile: obese

Although the usefulness of BMI in determining child obesity has been well established, quite a number of parents still fail in using this approach to identify obesity in their children. If you’re in that category, here are a few signs that will help you to suspect a weight problem in your kids:

  • When they look physically bigger than the other kids in their class
  • When they wear clothes that are too large for their age
  • When they eat the same quantity (or higher) of food as adults
  • When they get easily exhausted from physical exercise
  • When they detest balanced diets but crave junk foods
  • When they enjoy watching TV for over three hours per day
  • When they are always hungry

If you observe any of these features in your child, then taking him or her to your local pediatrician for examination would be a wise course of action.

What causes childhood obesity

Childhood obesity can be caused by a number of factors including lifestyle, psychological issues and family history. However, the major causes of obesity can be narrowed down to just two issues – eating too much and not exercising enough.

Below are more specific causes of childhood obesity.

1. Genetic potential

The phrase “like father, like son” and “like mother, like daughter” is certainly not a myth when it comes to body weight. There’s a strong genetic factor in obesity, therefore, children whose parents are obese are more likely to have weight problems than children whose parents are lean.[3]

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That said, obesity is not totally predetermined. Although genes play an important role, the things you eat (or don’t eat) play a more important role in determining which genes get expressed, including the gene responsible for obesity.

2. Junk-food addiction

The ready availability of ultra-processed (junk) foods has played no small role in increasing the incidence of obesity – especially in children. These high-fat, sugar-sweetened junk foods are designed to last long and taste so good that it’ll be almost impossible to resist.

Unfortunately, study after study has exposed this as a major cause of food addiction in both children and adults.[4] Junk foods stimulate the brain’s reward centers, resulting in an insatiable craving for more.[5] And once your kid gets addicted to junk foods, obesity is almost inevitable.

3. Insulin resistance

Insulin is an important hormone that controls energy storage. In simple terms, it is responsible for telling fat cells to store more fat and that, of course, results in weight gain. When kids eat junk foods, the excessive caloric content encourages insulin resistance by increasing insulin levels in the body and this results in more energy being stored as fat.[6]

While different research studies on the effect of insulin on childhood obesity come up with controversial results, several studies have revealed a consistent correlation between high level of insulin and development of obesity.[7] To deal with the insulin problem, increase fiber intake in your child’s diet and reduce refined sugars.[8]

4. Inadequate exercising

The role of proper exercising in maintaining a healthy weight is indispensable because physical exercise helps to burn calories, which results in fat loss.[9] Unfortunately many kids don’t get enough daily physical exercise and that results in the development of weight problems.

Uncontrolled access to TV and video games also play a huge role in reducing the extent of physical exercise that kids have access to. If this situation is left uncontrolled, it will greatly increase the chances of your child becoming overweight or obese.

The serious effect of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity tends to have very serious implications on the health and social life of kids. Here are a few of them:

1. Increased risk of type-2 diabetes

Children who are overweight or obese have a higher chance of developing type-2 diabetes.[10] Type-2 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to properly metabolize glucose and it can lead to several other problems such as nerve damage, kidney dysfunction and eye disease.

2. Increased risk of heart disease

High levels of bad cholesterol and increased blood pressure are common complications that accompany obesity in children. Unfortunately, these conditions astronomically increase the risk of developing heart disease in the future. Once heart disease sets in, it can lead to heart attack or stroke.

3. Increased chances of getting asthma

Asthma occurs when the lung’s airways become inflamed and this condition has been heavily linked to obesity. Although the reason for this relationship is still unclear, studies have shown that obesity can in fact increase the risk of becoming asthmatic.[11]

4. Development of joint pain

Joint pain is another common problem that overweight kids tend to battle with. The reason for this is rather simple – the bones can only carry so much weight before they get “tired.” However, joint pain tends to diminish as your kid begins to lose weight.

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5. Sleeping disorders

Obese kids also tend to suffer from various sleeping disorders such as snoring and apnea (ceasing breath during sleep). These are usually the direct result of the excessive weight around the neck, which tends to block the airways during sleep.

6. Social problems

Children who are obese tend to be victims of bullying in school and this can result in depression, reduced self-esteem and social isolation. Unfortunately, if this is unchecked, it can remain till adulthood or even lead to suicide.

What to do if your child is obese

Since you’re still reading this, then chances are that you have an overweight or obese child. If this is the case, there’s no need to panic – it can certainly be corrected.

Since kids are still so young and are already used to an unhealthy lifestyle, helping them to undergo a lifestyle change might not be so easy – so, brace yourself. Here are some proven steps you can take to transit your obese child back to healthfulness:

1. Start a healthy eating habit

This is the most important thing you can do to help your obese child because the major underlying problem behind obesity is unhealthy eating. Proper nutrition is key to weight loss,[12] so changing your child’s eating habits to a healthy one is absolutely critical and should be the very first thing in your checklist as you look to reverse obesity.

Since your kids will mostly eat what you buy and keep in the house, your child’s journey to fitness depends largely on you. You need to use this influence to control what they eat or don’t eat. For starters, get rid of highly processed foods from your home. These include sweets, soft drinks, chips and all other foods with high salt, fat or refined-sugar content.

Then you need to switch to clean eating – which simply means eating foods that are as natural or minimally processed as possible. Focus on fresh, whole foods instead of fast foods. Here some examples:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains e.g. whole wheat pasta, brown rice etc.
  • Lean proteins e.g. fish and chicken.
  • Low-fat dairy e.g. skim milk, Greek yoghurt etc.

However, for your clean eating plan to be successful, you’ll need to start cooking more. Cooking and eating together as a family doesn’t only come with health benefits, it also creates room for bonding.

Learn more tips about clean eating here: What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)

You should probably consult your dietician for help with meal planning though. There’s a good chance that as you switch to healthier eating, your obese child will start losing some weight.

2. Increase physical exercise

Physical exercise is just as important as healthy eating for effective weight loss to occur. However, for an eight-year old kid, enrolling in the gym next door won’t sound as interesting as plying hopscotch in the backyard. So if you want this to work, incorporate fun into whatever physical exercise you design for your child.

Furthermore, since the child is already overweight, he or she may have a hard time engaging in strenuous exercise for a long period. So as a rule of thumb, aim for at least one hour of physical exercise daily, which can be broken down into 5-10-minute exercises spread throughout the day.[13]

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You should also enroll your child for a sport that he/she is interested in and offer continuous support and encouragement especially when they don’t feel like continuing.

3. Encourage more family activities

You’d be surprised how interesting physical activities can be to kids when you join them in doing it. Regularly partaking in activities that the whole family enjoys can be a great way to get your child to become active and start out on the path to fitness.

The beautiful thing here is that whether you go hiking or swimming, you don’t just help your kid to drop a few pounds but you also give them an opportunity to learn from you – to see exactly the kind of things they should be doing. Just be sure to vary the activities from time to time, so that your child doesn’t get bored.

4. Reduce TV time

Although television can seem like a great way to keep kids occupied while you focus on other tasks, various research studies have shown that watching TV, playing video games or using smartphones excessively can result in weight gain for kids.

There are two reasons why this happens – first, more screen time means less time for physical activities which burn fewer calories; secondly, more TV time means more snacking on sugary or unhealthy foods and the intake of more empty calories results in weight gain, which worsens obesity.[14]

So, if your child must watch TV or play video games, it shouldn’t take more than an hour per day.

How to help your child stay healthy (and prevent obesity)

Prevention is better than cure. Whether you’re trying to keep your healthy-weighted kids from becoming overweight or you want to keep your once-obese child at normal weight for good, here are a few tips that can help:

1. Take out the bad stuff and make healthy foods accessible

The first step to take in ensuring that your kids eat healthy is to clean out your pantry and refrigerator.

Get rid of all sugary and overly processed foods and drinks. Replace them with healthier alternatives like fruits and veggies and ensure the healthy foods are easy to access.

2. Make their favorite dishes healthier

Foods don’t have to taste horrible to be healthy. Kids love things that taste nice and you can certainly make their favorite meals like pasta, tacos and pizza healthier by using the right ingredients. You can use extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter, top pizza with broccoli and green peppers and sneak veggies into sauces.

3. Avoid serving large portions

Even when you’re serving healthy meals to your kids, the portion sizes still matter. Start by serving small portions and let your child do the asking if he/she is not satisfied.

You should also avoid making your child clean out the plate – especially after asking for more as this may lead to excessive calorie consumption that can result in weight gain.

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4. Pack a lunch

Planning weekly school lunches for your child isn’t only going to save you a lot of money, it will also ensure that your child is eating healthy. Preparing lunch helps to control what goes into their tummy when you’re not with them and this will also help them get used to healthy eating.

Some healthy lunch ideas here for your kids: 25 Tasty and Healthy Kids’ Lunch Ideas for Home or School

5. Encourage kids to sleep more

While sleep may seem like an unproductive activity, it is one of the most important things your child needs to do sufficiently to avoid being overweight.[15] Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can result in excessive weight gain in children.[16]

6. Keep them busy

Getting kids to do house chores regularly is another way of helping them to stay healthy. Activities such as lawn mowing, house cleaning and bed making all help kids to exercise without realizing it.

7. Set a good example

Okay, this is probably the most important thing you can do to help your kids – setting the right example. If you want your kids to eat healthy, then do it first – before their eyes! Want them to be physically active? Then exercise more.

Kids tend to learn a great deal from their parents, even more than they do from television. When you practice what you preach to your kids, they’ll soon realize you’re not trying to be mean – it’s just the way things ought to be.

Final note

Although childhood obesity is a major menace staring us in the face, it certainly can be prevented and corrected. All you need to do is to get your kids to stop doing the wrong stuff and to start doing the right things.

For starters, you need to get your kids to break up with unhealthy eating habits and place them on a healthier diet. The transition may not progress as quickly as you’d like, so you may want to take things slow.

Then you need to find fun ways of getting them active, so that they can burn fat and maintain a better physical health. Just be sure to keep a tab on your children’s weight as they grow up and check their BMI regularly to ensure that they’re within the healthy weight range.

Remember this though, if you don’t make a move, nothing will get moved. So, start somewhere, anywhere! And start today! If you apply all the tips shared in this article, a few months from now, you’ll start seeing positive changes in your obese child.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Obesity Facts
[2]British Journal of General Practice: Child obesity cut-offs as derived from parental perceptions: cross-sectional questionnaire
[3]NCBI: The response to long-term overfeeding in identical twins.
[4]NCBI: Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake
[5]Science Direct: Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell
[6]NCBI: Dietary patterns, insulin resistance, and prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in women.
[7]NCBI: A causal role for hyperinsulinemia in obesity.
[8]NCBI: Impact of Dietary Fiber Consumption on Insulin Resistance and the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.
[9]HuffPost: Exercise Vs. Diet: The Truth About Weight Loss
[10]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tips for Parents – Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight
[11]Asthma Research & Practice: Asthma and obesity: mechanisms and clinical implications
[12]Premium Health Writer: Why Nutrition is Important in Your Weight Loss Program
[13]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How much physical activity do children need?
[14]Harvard School of Public Health: Television Watching and “Sit Time”
[15]Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
[16]National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Helping Your Child Who is Overweight

More by this author

Richard Adefioye

Richard is a freelance writer with a unique passion for health and productivity.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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