Op-Ed: To Combat Childhood Obesity Parents Must Get Involved
The writer is Barbara Weber Berry, RN MSN, coordinator of the SHAPEDOWN program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton.
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. It’s an especially troubling statistic, because overweight children are more likely to have health issues in their younger years, and more likely to be obese adults.
It is time to turn things around – and fast. After all, some experts have warned that children today may live shorter lives than their parents, with obesity a major factor.
With the holiday season just around the corner, it is the perfect time to draw attention to – and talk clearly about – this important issue.
There are some common sense ways to address the problem of childhood obesity, including improved nutrition, parental involvement and exercise.
Nationwide, community organizations are engaged in making a difference. Here in Mercer County, RWJ Hamilton teaches SHAPEDOWN, a transformative program helping families with healthy eating, active lifestyles, parental limit-setting and nurturing skills to curb a child’s over eating.
Of course, there are obstacles. A recent Mercer County Community Health Assessment Report noted that 25 percent of county adults are considered obese, slightly higher than the statewide rate.
Clearly there needs to be some education aimed at adults. But intense efforts need to be aimed at young people, in an attempt to reverse some troubling statistics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children aged 6–11 in the United States who was obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 who were obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent over the same period.
The impact can go far beyond diabetes and other illnesses that spring immediately to mind as being related to obesity.
In fact, a recent study predicted that if states’ obesity rates continue on the current path, the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times by 2020 and double again by 2030, according to Trust for America’s Health.
And children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem, according to the CDC.
So back to those common sense items.
According to the Mercer County health assessment, more than 70 percent of county residents reported eating fruits and vegetables fewer than five times per day (the recommended guideline is 5-9 times per day).
This is where the parents come in. There are many ways, including through SHAPEDOWN, that families can gain access to a nutritionist. This is one of the areas where parental involvement is key, because all parents know that children would rather reach for a cookie than whip up a salad.
In addition, the health assessment reported that about 25 percent of respondents indicated they get no physical activity, despite the fact the county is filled with parks and fitness centers.
Some of this is so simple: children just need to get up and go – and parents need to tell them to put down their video game controllers and join them in an active pursuit – take a hike, rake leaves or throw a ball. Bottom line is parents need to be a role model and get moving with them.
This is the time for families to begin focusing on eating right and exercising. And whether through SHAPEDOWN or another program, parents have to get involved.
- Barbara Weber Berry, RN MSN