Filed under: Obesity
Roughly one in three children in the United States is considered to be overweight or obese. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults, which can put them at risk for diabetes and other health conditions. The month of September is devoted to raising awareness about childhood obesity, with a focus on prevention.
We Can!® (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) is a national movement sponsored by four National Institutes of Health organizations to help children from ages 8 to 13 remain at a healthy weight. The website has specific information and educational resources geared toward the individual, family, and organizations. See HPRC’s Family Nutrition resources for more information and this HPRC card for easy reminders. For more about the exercise aspect of overcoming obesity, check out the Family & Relationships article from earlier this month.
You may have heard about the Body Mass Index (BMI), but do you really know what it is? BMI is an indicator of body fat for most adults—a screening tool for possible health problems. BMI is calculated using weight and height, and depending on the number, the result is categorized into underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an adult BMI calculator, child and teen BMI calculator, and information for interpreting the numbers.
Preventing obesity should begin at an early age, because children who are overweight often become obese as adults. And while many of us know that we need to eat right and exercise, there are also risk factors that we are born with that we can’t change. Now you can calculate your child’s risk of developing obesity with an online calculator.
The calculator was developed by a team of researchers who looked at a number of well-known biological and social risk factors for developing obesity. They were able to boil down their findings to six simple factors that provide a reasonably accurate probability of whether a child will develop obesity:
1) The body mass indexes (BMIs) of both parents. (HPRC has a link to a calculator you can use to calculate BMI.)
2) The number of people who live in the house.
3) What kind of work the child’s mother does.
4) Whether the mother smoked during her pregnancy.
5) The birth weight of the child (in kilograms). (To convert pounds [lb] to kilograms [kg], multiply pounds by 0.45359237.)
Living a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, but tools like this can help you determine whether your child is particularly at risk for becoming an obese adult, so that you can make important health changes early in life. For ideas to help your family be physically active and healthy, check out this HPRC Healthy Tip as well as the family physical fitness and family nutrition sections of HPRC’s website.
In the war against childhood obesity, senior military leaders are taking a stand in the name of national security. The retired generals and admirals of “Mission: Readiness” are doing their part to combat childhood obesity by calling on Congress to remove junk food and high-calorie drinks from schools by adopting the Institute of Medicine standards for what can be served in schools, increasing funding for more nutritious meals, and supporting the development of public health interventions. The group is concerned that current school policies and lack of high nutritional standards are leading to unhealthy food choices in the form of vending machine snacks and sugary drinks. As much as 40% of children’s caloric intake occurs at school, so clearly schools have an important role to play. Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie E. Wilson points out that “We need America’s service members to be in excellent physical condition because they have such an important job to do.” The most recent report by the Mission: Readiness organization estimates that 27% of young Americans are still too fat to fight and not healthy enough to serve their country. In an analysis of military standards, being overweight was the leading medical reason for being rejected from the military between 1995 and 2008. While these military leaders may be fighting for your kids, the real battle begins at home. Encourage healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors by staying fit as a family.
Chubby cheeks on little ones are cute, but you want your child to outgrow them. The number of obese and overweight children has almost tripled since 1980, resulting in an increase in cardiovascular disease and other health issues—a trend reflected in the body-fat condition of today’s military trainees. Doing activities as a family not only gets kids moving, but also gets you moving! Children need at least 60 minutes a day of play involving moderate to vigorous exercise. This can be done throughout the day— at recess, during after school activities, playing at home—and doesn’t have to be done all at once. Let’s Move! has a list of simple steps you can do to encourage your child to live a healthy lifestyle. One idea: Have a house rule of doing jumping jacks during television commercials. For even more ideas, check out the CDC’s Strategies and Solutions for parents and communities.
Are you looking for ways to promote your health or the health of your family? Operation Live Well, a DoD initiative, provides a wealth of information each month on a targeted topic. September is National Cholesterol Education Month and National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. High blood cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease, the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Encouraging family physical fitness can instill a lifetime of healthy habits and decrease risks for problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Check back often to see new topics and explore methods to improve and sustain your well-being!
A new study published in the Lancet reports that one in 10 premature deaths worldwide is related to lack of exercise, equal to 5.3 million deaths in 2008. It seems as though inactivity has become as deadly as tobacco. More specifically, researchers estimated that lack of exercise causes about 6% of heart disease, 7% of Type 2 diabetes, and 10% of colon and breast cancers worldwide. To put this in perspective, the failure to spend 15-30 minutes a day doing activities such as brisk walking could shorten your life span by three to five years. Lack of physical activity is certainly a global epidemic, but it is also highly preventable. Check out HPRC's resources on how to get you and your family physically active.
Armed Forces Day was created in 1949 to honor Americans serving in the military. In 1962 President Kennedy established it as an official holiday on the third Saturday in May. Why should Armed Forces Day get attention on a DoD human performance optimization website? As director of HPRC, I think this holiday has the potential not just to honor the Armed Forces but for the Armed Forces to do what it has done many times in the past: respond to a crisis for the United States. The Armed Forces go to war to support a political strategy, and no national strategy at the present time is more critical than the war on obesity and tobacco. DoD has chosen these as part of the National Prevention Strategy. So how do we fight this war? We the military can start by setting the example for the rest of the country by bringing into our homes the practices of physical fitness and good nutrition as well as a smoke-free environment. We can make fitness and nutrition a priority for our spouses and children. We can make fitness and nutrition family activities that can promote good health, form stronger families, and make family members happier, closer together, and more productive. The military family can be the model for the civilian community to copy—a family working together toward a common goal of health and fitness. The payoff is tremendous in the present and the future. The military can be the beginning of a movement across the country to fight and win the war on obesity and tobacco use. The HPRC website has lots of helpful information in this war on obesity and tobacco. Check out the site (www.hprconline.org) and look under Physical Fitness, Nutrition, tobacco (under Mind Tactics Performance Degraders), and Family & Relationships. There is much that can be done. Join the war on obesity and tobacco. Set an example in your community for healthy living. Oorah! Hooah!
Most people understand what it means to have high blood pressure, excess fat around the middle, a high cholesterol level, and the importance of addressing these health problems. What some may not realize is how serious the situation becomes when a person has been diagnosed with three or more such conditions in conjunction with other health issues.
This occurrence is called metabolic syndrome.
People who suffer from this combination of conditions (a reported one in four—50 million in the United States alone) have a dramatically increased risk for developing heart disease, type-2 diabetes, or a stroke. Individually, these symptoms pose a health risk, but identified together they raise the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that include excess fat in the abdominal area (as measured by waist circumference), borderline or high blood pressure, high cholesterol that fosters plaque buildup in arteries, insulin resistance or glucose intolerance indicating the body can’t properly use insulin, raising blood sugar levels, and the presence of a protein in the blood, which can cause inflammation.
People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following risk factors:
- Excessive body fat around the waist
- Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol
- High levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat)
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated glucose (blood sugar) levels after fasting
The complications of metabolic syndrome are serious and, if not addressed, can cause major health problems. If you are overweight and don't yet have these problems, keep in mind that the older you get, the more likely you are to develop them. Older adults can develop metabolic syndrome without being overweight, so it is important to get annual physical exams.
What can be done to prevent metabolic syndrome? If you are fall into the categories above or are overweight, one way to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome is to incorporate healthy habits such as starting an exercise regimen. (But be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have not been active for a while.)
Diet is also key to reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. By making small changes in your diet—such as decreasing the number of calories you take in per day; eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and low-fat meals, and avoiding fast/fried/fatty/oily foods—you can reduce your chances of developing metabolic syndrome.
If you would like to know more about metabolic syndrome, we recommend the following resources:
With the rise of obesity among children, restaurants are stepping up to help combat the issue by offering healthier menu items for children. Focusing more on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy items, the new initiative “Kids LiveWell” is working with restaurants to offer meals that are lower in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium. Read more about this initiative at Kids LiveWell.