During the pre-teen and teen years, some children can really put on the pounds. That puts them at greater risk for obesity, especially if obesity runs in the family.
But adolescents have one factor working in their favor — it’s the growth spurt. Embracing good eating habits and exercise during puberty, when kids tend to shoot up in height overnight, can help the body to essentially “outrun” the effects of a natural increase in triglycerides. That can prevent excessive weight gain, says AzAAP member Farah Lokey, MD, of Southwestern Pediatrics in Gilbert.
Lokey, who serves on the AzAAP Childhood Obesity Committee, says that statistically, if a child is obese at age 12, or has at least one obese parent, he or she has a 75 to 80 percent chance of being an obese adult.
During puberty, genetics plays a role in whether or not a child will put on excessive weight. But as the prevalence of obesity has so rapidly increased, environmental factors tend to play an even greater role.
Busy families can have a tough time planning meals and fixing healthy foods. Meals and snacks of the fast food, high-fat variety, says Lokey, can creep into the household diet when there are adolescents in the house.
As children move into the adolescent period, teens and pre-teens begin socializing independently. If that leisure time is based around eating at places that don’t always offer healthy choices, kids can put on extra weight.
Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle of video games and computer time, then take physical education requirements out of the classroom, says Lokey, and you’ve got a recipe for adolescent obesity.
But more often, unhealthy habits are instilled when children are very young, and that simply becomes part of the family lifestyle.
Encourage kids to follow 5-2-1-0 AZ Way To Go! Every day, eat 5 fruits and vegetables, limit screen time to less than 2 hours, exercise for one hour and skip the sweetened drinks (that’s the zero). That will help a child move through puberty with a good balance of weight gain and height gain. 5-2-1-0 AZ Way To Go! is a nationally-recognized project and toolbox focused on dealing with the epidemic of childhood obesity, developed by the AzAAP Childhood Obesity Committee.
What can parents do to help? Lokey’s tips:
- Take a look at your own lifestyle. Be a good role model yourself.
- Don’t keep soda, chips or other high sugar or fat foods on hand at home. Encourage kids to pack their own healthy lunches to take to school.
- Add healthy, portion controlled snacks in to the lunchbox. Make fresh fruits and veggies more accessible than other not-so-healthy choices.
- Find a way to help kids exercise at least one hour a day. Low cost programs, such as the YMCA, can be a great community resource.
- Work on staying healthy together, as a family, by taking a walk at night, planning grocery lists, and fixing lunches together ahead of time.