Over the past four decades, the rise in childhood obesity has significantly impacted many children, adolescents and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one in every five children in the United States is obese.

Children with obesity are at a higher risk for developing chronic health conditions, such as asthma, joint and bone complications, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes. They are also at a higher risk for developing heart disease due to potential high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as many types of cancers. Also, children just don’t feel the energy like they should as a child when they are carrying extra pounds.

There are many factors that have a major influence on obesity in children. Eating behaviors, lack of physical activity, metabolism and family genetics are the most individualized factors; however, home environment and social factors play a huge role.

One of the most influential risk factors is screen time. Too much time spent being inactive while watching television, scrolling through social media or playing video games might also lead to a lack of sleep for some children, which is also a risk factor for obesity.

There is a cycle of events that lead to the development of obesity. Over the years there has been a trend of inactivity and easy accessibility to inexpensive, high-calorie foods and empty-calorie beverages.

How can we help support the healthy growth and development children need to become healthy adults? The most important way is to be a healthy role model for your family. Making health a priority, caring about the quality of the food your family eats and how much activity they get are the first steps. Seek out help and resources so you feel supported when making changes for yourself and your family. Try making some of the following changes and look at these helpful resources from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension:

Physical activity: School-aged youth are recommended to achieve a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. Make a family activity calendar at home and motivate each other to be active together. Enjoy the outdoors and take a walk, ride bikes, build a garden, practice stretching or play a basketball game in your driveway. Engage in a friendly competition with other families and see who can “Walk Across Texas” first. For information on a free eight-week physical activity program, visit walkacrosstexas.tamu.edu/

Healthy nutrition: Always plan out your meals before grocery shopping to limit the temptations of unhealthy foods. Choose more fruits and vegetables as snacks throughout the day and make them half of your plate for meals. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and limit sugary beverages. Remember that when you take your family out to eat it is better for your kids to drink water than any other beverage, and in turn, their stomachs will not be as full and they will eat more of their food. Cooking at home is, of course, a healthier and more social option. Invite your children to help prepare and cook a meal. Not only is this fun for them, but they are learning about healthy foods. To try some quick and healthy recipes, visit dinnertonight.tamu.edu.

Screen time: Boundaries for screen time and social media should always be followed daily. A good balance will help limit inactivity. It is recommended children 6 years and older should limit their screen time from one to two hours each day. Set automatic limits on phones and tablets, and motivate your child to engage in youth development programs such as 4-H. Learn about the hands-on activities in science, health and agriculture at texas4-h.tamu.edu/.

As parents, grandparents and guardians, we must make positive changes for our children. We are the most important influencers in their lives. The positive change for a healthy lifestyle must come from us. There are many things we can do to be a healthy role model for the youth.

Cameron Peters is the Family and Community Health Extension Agent for Texas A&M AgriLife in Brazoria County. Contact her at 979-864-1558 or Cameron.Peters@ag.tamu.edu.

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