Adult obesity and childhood obesity rates have continued to rise over the past 20 years. Because obesity can pose immediate and future health risks, parents and caregivers are looking for answers to how they can help their children live a healthier and happier life. . 

In the United States, 1 in 5 children or about 19% struggle with obesity. In New Jersey, 14% of children ages 10 through 17 have obesity, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. Just like adults, children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity and are at a higher risk of developing other chronic health issues such type 2 diabetes, hypertension, joint problems and more. 

Research shows that COVID-19 has not only increased the likelihood of childhood obesity, but actually worsened the severity of the disease. This is due to a decrease in physical activity and extracurricular activities, increase in screen time, family financial constraints limiting access to healthy foods and,, the increase of stress and fear of contracting COVID-19. 

As a parent, how can you tackle childhood obesity and help your child live a healthier life? Here are some tips. 

Encourage healthy eating habits

Nutrition is essential for overall health as well as  growth and development. Eating healthy as a family is important to keep everyone healthy and happy. Keep the primary focus on lean proteins and high fiber fruits and vegetables. Check out our blog for dietitian-approved, delicious recipes that the whole family will enjoy. Try preparing new and healthy recipes together or making a healthier version of your child’s favorite food.

Increase movement

Children aged 6-17 should get around 60 minutes or more of activity daily. This will help strengthen their bones, build muscles and encourage a healthy weight. Motivate your child(ren) to get outside and move around daily. That can be anything from running, walking, swimming to playing basketball, soccer, rock climbing and more. Help them find an activity that they enjoy. Or, even better, increase movement as a family. Take nightly walks after dinner. Try hiking or biking on the weekends. It’s a great opportunity to spend more quality time as a family while increasing your daily movement and offering support to your child. 

Decrease screen time

Another way to encourage children to move more is to limit the amount of time they spend in front of their screens. On average, children aged 8-12 spend 4-6 hours watching or using screens and teenagers spend up to 9 hours a day on screen. Allow them to use their phones, laptops and video games after they’ve done school work and played an activity. Or even limit screen use to the weekends only. They can use their screen time to find healthy recipes they may want to try or a movement based video game. Challenge your child to use screen time productively. For example, finding a fun and engaging exercise video or attending a live, virtual Zoom exercise class. Find a routine that works for you and keeps everyone healthy and happy.

How a Medical Team Can Help 

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to help your child, the excess weight doesn’t come off. It could be because of the body’s set point. This is when our body is working against us in order to maintain its set point — a weight range, usually within 5 or 10 pounds, that our body fights very hard to maintain. When our body detects that we’re consuming fewer calories, our stomach sends signals to our brain to eat more — we’ll even start to feel more hungry. You can read more about the set point theory here

You may be able to help your child reverse this vicious cycle with bariatric surgery or non-surgical weight loss methods. New Jersey Bariatric Center is a part of Robert Wood Johnson’s Adolescent Bariatric Surgery Research Study. The goal of this study is to establish the efficacy of bariatric surgery to adolescent patients between the ages of 15-18 years old. The study will evaluate improvement in comorbid conditions, quality of life, and lower BMI over a 2-year time span. You can read more about the study here

Make an appointment to speak with one of our fellowship trained bariatric surgeons to help you find the best solution. Call us today at 908-481-1270.

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    By: Tina Thomas, MD

    Dr. Thomas is board certified in general surgery and surgical critical care, with specialty training in advanced minimally invasive general and bariatric surgery. Dr. Thomas elected to attend medical school in India and graduated with distinction. She completed her general surgery residency at the University of Connecticut, where she received awards for resident excellence and leadership by example. Dr. Thomas has completed two fellowships, in surgical critical care and advanced minimally invasive and bariatric surgery, from the University of Michigan and Hackensack University Medical Center respectively.

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