Nyman: Childhood obesity a public health problem

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, which provides a chance to learn more about this serious health condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects nearly 14 million children, with about 14% of 2- to 5-year-olds considered obese, and about 21% of 12- to 19-year-olds struggling with obesity.

While there is no simple solution, there are many ways parents, communities and health professionals can support children on the journey to good health.

Why Is This An Issue?

Childhood obesity is a public health problem for many reasons. Obese children are at higher risk for developing health conditions like asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Children with obesity can be bullied and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem. Obese children also are more likely to become obese adults, leading to lifelong physical and mental health problems.

Factors including eating and physical activity behaviors, genetics, metabolism and family and home environment, along with community factors may be at play with this health issue. For some children and families, obesity may be influenced by too much time spent being inactive, lack of sleep, lack of places to go in the community for physical activity, easy access to inexpensive/high calorie foods and sugary beverages and a lack of access to affordable healthy foods.

How Do Dairy Foods Play A Role?

It is important to include dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt in the diet as they are packed with essential nutrients. Along with being good sources of protein, zinc and B vitamins, dairy foods are a main source of calcium, a mineral needed for strong bones. Dairy products are considered nutrient-rich foods and their availability, variety and convenience make them ideal food choices for families looking to build healthy eating habits.

Research affirms dairy’s place in the diet and importance in growing healthy children. Studies indicate that children who drink milk are more likely to have a lower body mass than non-milk drinkers.

Looking To The Future

Parents, teachers and health professionals can help prevent obesity and support healthy growth in children in a variety of ways. Identifying what a healthy diet looks like, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy foods, is the first step. Paying attention to a child’s growth over time can allow parents to address concerns as they emerge with their health professionals. Finally, being a role model with healthy eating and physical activity habits can be a powerful tool.

Addressing obesity can start in the home, but community support calls for a group effort. Communities can ensure that neighborhoods have low-cost physical activity opportunities such as parks, trails and recreation centers. Health experts can measure children’s weight and height routinely and connect families to nutrition education and healthy weight programs as needed. Schools and child-care centers can adopt practices that support consuming foods from all food groups, including dairy.

Helping children select beverages based on the nutrition content is important. When you choose milk, you are choosing nine essential nutrients, a distinct advantage over the empty calories in sodas. Working together, communities can help make healthy foods, beverages and physical activity the easy choice for kids and may help prevent childhood obesity.

Monica Nyman is a senior nutrition educator for the St. Louis District Dairy Council. Get dairy-rich recipes or additional information about the council at www.stldairycouncil.org.


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