Did you know that according to the California Department of Health Care Services, one in every nine California children and one in every three California teens are already overweight or obese? Many of these same children are at risk for developing — or have already developed — obesity-related health problems. And if your family has a history of obesity, your child has an even higher risk of becoming overweight.
The National Center of Health Statistics reports the percentage of elementary-age children who are considered obese has doubled since 1980, from 7% to 14%. Generally, children who are between 10% and 20% over the appropriate weight for their height and age would be classified as overweight. Children who are 20% or more over the ideal weight are classified as obese. About 85% of obese children continue to be classified as obese for the rest of their lives.
The earlier you halt unhealthy habits the greater your chance of preventing chronic health problems later in life. Eating too much unhealthy food and not engaging in physical activity are often behaviors that start at home. Parents can set the example for their children. Teachers and school officials can reinforce healthy behaviors. And the community can help in creating an environment where residents can find the right foods and the physical activities needed to stay healthy.
Helping your children become physically active can prevent weight problems from developing or getting worse. Regular exercise also helps kids have more energy throughout the day. Your child doesn’t have to make huge changes all at once. Making just one or two changes at a time can make a difference in your child’s weight and health over time.
Exercise also doesn’t have to be done all at once. Find breaks throughout the day to get in some physical activity. Even four 15-minute periods of activity that is age appropriate will make a difference in overall health.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate physical activity into your family’s day:
- Instead of driving the kids to school, try walking or riding bikes.
- Set aside time after dinner to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood as a family.
- Spend a weekend afternoon at the park. Bring a ball and play catch.
- Invest in a family membership at a local gym.
- Sign up for local walks/runs – most have separate races for kids.
- Work together in the yard, raking leaves or pulling weeds. Even simple chores are a great way to get your heart pumping.
Remember, join in the fun. Set the example so your children can see you are making healthy choices as well. Your doctor can offer you and your child support to be more active. Be sure to speak with your doctor about ways to keep your family healthy.
Dr. Jeff Gaborko is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center, a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.