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Family-Style Fitness: Healthy Habits Prevent Obesity

Most parents would agree: It’s hard to get kids to do anything that’s “good for them.”

But when it comes to your child’s health, you can’t afford to leave it to chance. Childhood obesity is quickly becoming an epidemic in the United States, with the number of overweight children more than doubling in the past two decades.

Obesity, or being 20 percent or more above the recommended weight for one’s height, can cause many health risks in children and adolescents, including high blood pressure and childhood diabetes. It also tends to be a lifelong problem: Three out of four children who are obese at age 12 will be obese as adults, making them candidates for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other serious medical problems.

Be proactive
The good news is that obesity in children is both preventable and correctable.

Parents must set the tone by creating a healthy home environment. Make good health a priority for your entire family, starting when your kids are toddlers. Serve well-balanced, nutritious meals and snacks, emphasize physical activity and limit passive activities such as playing video games.

Also, make sure your child has a pediatrician who follows and assesses his or her growth. When kids go for their annual checkups, their pediatrician records their height and weight on a growth chart. “This enables us to see how a child is growing compared to other kids their age,” says Beth Volin, MD, a pediatrician at Rush University Medical Center.

Body mass index (BMI) is used to determine whether a child or teenager is underweight, overweight or at risk for being overweight. Because girls and boys grow at different rates, BMI measurements for kids are both age- and gender-specific. A child with a BMI in the 85th percentile is overweight (meaning that compared with kids of the same gender and age, 85 percent have a lower BMI); the 95th percentile means the child is obese.

Volin talks to all of her preteen and teenage patients — whether they are overweight or not — about eating well and getting enough physical activity. “I make it universal,” she says. “That way children who are overweight don’t feel stigmatized.”

Talk about it
If your child does have a weight problem, address it as early as possible, before any health problems occur. A good place to start is by talking to your child. Here are some suggestions for having a constructive and sensitive conversation:

  • Have the talk in a private, quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Pick a time when neither of you will be rushed or distracted.
  • Start by reaffirming your acceptance of and love for your child and by emphasizing his or her strengths.
  • Avoid criticizing or yelling.
  • Keep the focus on your child’s health, not appearance.
  • Be a good listener. Give your child a chance to tell you about his or her feelings.
  • Set realistic goals. Don’t focus on weight loss as the only measure of success. Talk about becoming healthier and more physically fit over time.
  • If you think your emotions will get in the way, ask someone your child trusts to talk to him or her.

To make sure children are not facing challenges alone, pediatricians and nutritionists can work with kids and their families to create realistic diet and exercise plans, as well as help kids cope with the emotional aspects of being overweight.

“The best thing you, as a parent, can do is be supportive,” Volin says. “Be a cheerleader for your child.”

To make an appointment with a pediatrician at Rush, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • Want to learn more about family-style fitness? Join us for Keeping Your Family Healthy and Active: An Afternoon Dedicated to Your Family’s Health and Well-Being on Sunday, June 4, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. This free program will feature a wealth of health, fitness and lifestyle advice from specialists at Rush; fun, healthy activities for parents and kids; and a special keynote address by celebrity fitness trainer Jim Karas. For more information, visit the Rush Web site at or call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
  • For more information about childhood obesity and inexpensive ways for kids to stay active this summer, read “Taking Full Advantage of the Summer.”
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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