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Preventing Childhood Obesity

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Dear Elizabeth,
I have a 4-year-old daughter whoís overweight. Iím looking for ways to get her to eat a more healthy diet and to exercise. Can you give me some suggestions?
Susan Lundren
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Host
  • Avoid giving your child soft drinks
  • Make nutritious foods available
  • Make sure your child gets at least an hour of physical activity every day
  • Set a good example
  • Set limits for use of the computer & television
Expert Advice
Dr. Antronette Yancey
Dr. Antronette Yancey
UCLA School of Public Health
Obesity in childhood has become commonplace. The rate has tripled to quadrupled during the past three decades, to nearly 1 in 5 kids. African-American, American Indian, Latino and Pacific Islander children are at greater risk, with nearly half of poor ethnic minority children in certain communities overweight or obese. Obesity rates in the United States are generally higher in the Midwest and South, than in the Northeast and West.

Causes of Obesity
The combination of readily available, tasty, highly processed, high calorie and low-nutrient foods, with mostly sedentary entertainment and transportation has led to greater obesity. For example, very few children walk to school, even those living within a mile. TV contributes both by exposing children to a barrage of commercial advertising for unhealthy foods, and probably also by displacing more active leisure pursuits.

Preventing Obesity
We need to restructure the environment to make healthy food choices and physical activity the easy choices and sedentary behavior and highly processed, high calorie foods the hard ones. Physical activity must become a daily routine. Schools must be situated to make walking quicker and easier than driving (pedestrian accommodations such as speed bumps, traffic re-routing, well-maintained sidewalks). However, just changing environments focused on children will not address the problem. The environment must be re-engineered to incorporate tasty and competitively priced healthy foods and physical activity.

Changing Kidsí Eating Habits
Consumption of sugary beverages, white flour, fatty and salty meats and snacks, whole-fat dairy products, and fast foods should be minimized. Most fruit juices other than orange juice are just sugar water. Vegetable juices often have more nutrients and less sugar, e.g., carrot juice. However, ideally itís always better to eat the fruits and veggies than to drink them.

Encourage Physical Activity
One hour a day of moderate to vigorous intensity of physical activity is the CDC recommendation. A variety of activities is important, e.g., jumping to build strong bones.

Itís extremely important that parents set good examples themselves. Parents who make it a priority to eat healthfully and integrate regular physical activity into family life are more likely to have children who develop and continue these habits.
Child Care Provider Comments
Bellina Logan
Bellina Logan
Mother of a 4-year-old
Our family stays away from most juices and things with sugar content. My daughter, Lola, drinks mostly water or milk. She never drinks soda or anything like that. She has never liked fruit. This is very challenging for us as far as giving her a healthy snack. Bananas are the only fruit that she likes. She loves vegetables, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, and green beans. What nutrition she doesnít get in fruit, she gets in vegetables. Our pediatrician tells us that itís OK.
Rachelle Vargas
Rachelle Vargas
Child care provider for 17 years
I give the kids in my care something we call orange cups. I mix orange juice and low fat vanilla yogurt in a little cup and freeze it. They love it. We have lots of fruits and vegetables as snacks as well.
Joaquin Gurrola
Joaquin Gurrola
Cares for his nieces and nephews
Luckily, my nieces and nephews like to eat some healthy foods. They especially love fruit. There was an occasion recently when they were having a hamburger, so I diced some strawberries with some apples so it helped to give them a more balanced meal. I also encourage them to eat more vegetables.

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