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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


Weight can Damage Self-Esteem


One would never guess by observing the typical American youngster’s eating habits that our society is obsessed with being thin . A common sight is teenagers wolfing down French fries at the local fast-food restaurant or stuffing themselves with potato chips, ice cream and cookies in front of the television set. Our children skip meals instead of jumping rope, opt for munching on M&M’sTM rather than crunching carrots, and dip into DoritosTM more frequently than dipping into their neighborhood pool.

Before our very eyes, American children are becoming obese. Since 1960, the incidence of childhood obesity has increased 50 percent, and about one fifth of American youngsters weigh more than they should.

Obesity is a serious health risk because it leads to a broad range of physical and psychological problems. Childhood obesity is already the leading cause of sustained high blood pressure in children. It also contributes to diabetes, high cholesterol level, joint disease, menstrual irregularities and other hormonal derangements.

Since excess weight in childhood is likely to be carried over into adulthood, over weight children will be more predisposed to obesity-related chronic illness. These include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, gall stones, gout and sleep apnea (the interruption of normal breathing during sleep).

The psychological effects of childhood obesity can be equally devastating. Overweight youngsters are frequently teased by their peers and adults as individuals who are less desirable to have as friends. Jokes poking fun at overweight people are common in our society. While growing up, obese children are forced to run a gamut of psychological barbs and social discriminations. As a result, they suffer low self-esteem, feel inadequate and are looked upon as the source of their own problem.

Every social situation is potentially embarrassing for the child with excess weight. Appearing in gym classes or public swimming pools where they have to wear more revealing clothing becomes a difficult time. Those who decide to play competitive sports often suffer the humiliation of being the last ones chosen for teams. In school, obese children perform poorer academically than their normal weight peers and have lower grade point averages. As young adults, they have more difficulty gaining acceptance into college and securing jobs and future promotions. It is no wonder that over time these childhood experiences lead to poor self esteem and self-confidence. This begins an unfortunate cycle of social isolation, emotional withdrawal, depression, inactivity, more overeating, and further weight gain.

What causes overweight children? Many parents would like to blame their youngster’s obesity on a medical problem such as thyroid disease. Unfortunately less than 1 percent of obese children have a true hormonal imbalance or other medical condition. So what is responsible for the 12 million obese children in the U.S. today? While no one reason solely explains this phenomenon, genetics, poor nutrition, bad eating habits and lack of exercise are the likely causes. How much heredity contributes to the problem is controversial. Even if a child inherits genes that create obesity, environmental factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits must be present for obesity to take hold.

There are many things parents can do to help their children. First, get the advice of your child’s physician to determine how serious the problem is- or if there really is a problem at all! Children vary and many appear overweight when compared to their friends but really are normal. Remember, a reasonable goal for most young overweight children is not to lose weight but to slow their weight gain and grow into their weight.

  • Give the child your unconditional love and support. No matter how much your he or she weighs, let your child know he or she is a good person. Build self-esteem and emphasize your youngster’s positive traits.

  • Lack of exercise is the number one cause of childhood obesity. Our children (like many adults) have become couch potatoes. Kids love taking classes in dance and aerobics. After school athletic programs offer all kinds of group exercise for kids, such as basketball, swimming, and soccer. But the greatest influence on a child’s health is his or her parents, so get the entire family moving and "sweating" together. A brisk one hour walk around the neighborhood will give you a chance to talk to your child, get much needed exercise, and get everyone away from the.....

  • Television. Reduce the amount of TV watching. America has become a spectator society, a nation of "couch potatoes." There is a proven relationship between television viewing and obesity. Children watch an average of three hours of TV a day, and guess what is the most frequently advertised product on TV? Food! And guess what most people do while watching TV? Eat! Limit TV to an hour or two a day--any more TV viewing is done while riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill!

  • Look inward. Examine what’s in your refrigerator, your cabinets, your oven and your pantry. Cut down on non-nutritious junk foods and resist a child’s requests to buy more. Strive to prepare only low-fat, high fiber foods.

  • Don’t put your child on a diet. Restricting calories often backfires and may be potentially dangerous for a growing child. Instead, move the family focus away from food. Eliminate between-meal snacking, make mealtime pleasant, and never force children to eat when they are not hungry. Avoid serving "family style" since food placed in the center of a table always seems to be eaten by someone. Never use food as bribes since this sends children the message that certain foods (cookies, cake, ice cream, etc.) are more valuable than others. Make a new household rule for everyone, including the grown-ups: No eating anywhere in the house except at the dining table.

We have a responsibility to protect our children from the physical and psychological harm caused by being overweight. By establishing healthy eating and exercise patterns, parents can defeat this enemy so that their children can grow up and not be weighted down by being weighty adults.

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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