EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily Press is launching a three-part series highlighting the efforts in the community to combat childhood obesity. Part one centers on how families can fight the problem through proper nutrition and physical actitivity, with tips from local experts.
ESCANABA - Childhood obesity is a growing concern across the country, rightfully becoming a national issue over the years. However, there are some tips for preventing the growing epidemic, mainly related to healthy eating and increased physical activity for children.
According to Linda Klope, registered dietician and certified diabetic educator at OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese. Since 1980, the obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. Statistics are even more alarming for low-income families, as nearly one-third of 3.7 million low-income children ages 2-4 are obese or overweight. According to a 2011 Youth Behavior Survey, listed on the CDC's website, 12 percent of high school students in Michigan were obese, a number that's remained constant for the past few years.
Though Klope was unsure of how big a problem childhood obesity is locally, it's definitely been something she deals with more often.
"I know I'm seeing more and more kids," she said. "Dr. Kasetty, our local pediatrician, is referring kids to me all the time."
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Klope said the CDC provides a lot of information on the topic, but noted one of the main things a parent can do to prevent childhood obesity is to encourage healthy eating habits.
"You want to provide plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grain products," she said. "Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products. Choose your leaner meats: poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein, (and) serve reasonably-sized portions. Our portion size might be one-half a cup, whereas a little child's might be more like a tablespoon or two."
She also recommends encouraging children to drink more water, limiting consumption of sugar and saturated fats, as well as ensuring kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day and avoid excessive use of media, such as television or computers. Other recommendations include looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier and removing calorie-rich temptations. Klope said one of the main problems she finds is consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which includes soda, energy drinks, even juices. "They're really saying now, about under the age of 6, kids should only have six ounces of juice a day, so that's not much," said Klope.
She noted the daily recommended amounts for consumption in each food group varies depending on the age of the child.
"I was always taught that it's 1,000 calories for the first year, and then you add 100 after that, so if they're 2, it's about 1,200," said Klope.
This number can change, though, for kids who are more active. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid can be used as a sample for determining portion amounts for kids in the various food groups.
The sample pyramid guideline is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, which Klope estimates is the amount consumed for kids at the approximate age of 10 and up.
Based on this, MyPyramid suggests children consume the following amounts in each food group daily: six ounces of grains, two and one-half cups of vegetables, two cups of fruits, three cups of milk (two cups for kids ages 2 through 8), and five and one-half ounces of meat and beans.
To determine the right amounts based on a child's age, parents are encouraged to visit MyPyramid.gov for more information.
Childhood obesity, if not properly addressed, can have a harmful effect on the body in various ways, with obese children more likely to have: high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease; increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes; breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma; joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort; and fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux, such as heartburn, according to the CDC. Obese children and adolescents also face a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood. Klope said another main concern to watch is portion size, as foods are packaged or served in greater quantities.
"I think we need to go back and really look at what we're serving and how much we really need, because it's not the computer," said Klope. "Everybody says it's because we're not as active as we used to be, but that's not necessarily true. It's the portion sizes they're serving. You should be eating one chicken breast instead of two, or you go to a restaurant and a lot of times they'll serve you two pork chops. What's wrong with one?" She said there is some room for certain foods that aren't as healthy, but not in the amounts and sizes currently being consumed.
For more information on healthy eating and childhood obesity prevention tips, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm.