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Childhood Obesity: Is Your Child in the Danger Zone?

Did you know that for the first time in history, children in the U.S. are expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents? As frightening as that sounds, this is far from a new warning from doctors and public officials.

Researchers on childhood obesity have been sounding the alarm for more than 20 years, warning Americans that obesity is on the rise, and junk food and lack of exercise are among the culprits. Now, a new study finds that more than 15 percent of U.S. kids ages 2 to 5 years old are obese – that’s the highest level since 1999.

So, how bad is this? Asheley Cockrell Skinner, one of the scientists behind the study, tells NPR: “When obesity starts younger, most of these children continue to have obesity throughout childhood and into adulthood. The earlier you start seeing this, the harder it is to address it for these kids.”

And in addition to health problems associated with the extra weight, like high blood pressure and diabetes, obese kids are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression, according to the American Heart Association.

So, how do you know if your child is in the danger zone? A quick way to find out is by calculating their Body Mass Index (BMI), which assesses weight relative to height. Simply input your child’s age, gender, height and weight on the CDC calculator to see where your child falls. It’s a useful screening tool, but make sure to check with your child’s pediatrician for a complete examination.

Also, kick-start healthy habits in your home with these tips:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits – Stock your fridge with healthy, nutritious foods and limit portion sizes.
  • Make favorite dishes healthier together – Get your kids in the kitchen and help them cook their favorite meal with you. Teach them how to substitute ingredients to cut down on saturated and trans fats.
  • Limit high-fat and high-sugar foods – Watch out for salty snacks, too, and swap them out for healthier options that are 100 calories or less.
  • Teach kids the benefits of physical activity – Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, if not every day.
  • Cut down on sedentary time – Limit TV, video and computer time to no more than two hours a day, and encourage fun activities that will get kids moving.

Remember that small changes every day can make a big difference overtime. The AHA says the key to success is to balance the calories your child consumes with the calories needed for normal growth and physical activity. Most importantly, check with your child’s pediatrician before starting him or her on a weight-loss diet.

To find out how United Way is helping communities become healthier, check out these stories on our blog.

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