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Generation XL

It probably comes as no surprise to you that the numbers of overweight and obese children are on the rise. Though we don't have good statistics on Minnesota's children, by simply looking around at your local park or swimming pool you probably notice a change in the average child. According to our government agencies, rates of overweight US children aged 6-11 years have more than doubled from 7% in 1980 to 18.8% in 2004, and rates for 12-19 year-old teenagers more than tripled, from 5% to 17.1% over the same time period! When considering the risks associated with being overweight, you'll likely think of late adulthood heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. But you should also consider a child's risks for poor self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, sleep disturbances and joint problems. Some very good studies also prove that being an overweight child is linked to poorer academic success in school and subsequently lower paying jobs in the work-world!

So what's to blame for the rise in overweight children? The rise of fast food with it's high calorie and fat load per meal is certainly at fault, along with the erosion of the family meal as a cultural staple. Media messages confuse our kids about the fun or coolness of fast food and the need to get the most value out of their meal by super sizing. Increasing portion sizes have clearly played a large role. Additionally, kids are getting less exercise than they used to. There is less PE at school, and more sport specialization (less interest in playing a sport in which she's not an expert). Due to urban sprawl they're less likely to walk or ride bicycles. And computer/video games today are developed to be increasingly life-like and addictive, which keeps kids spending hours of indoor, sedentary time.

A person's weight is truly just a balance between the calories he consumes and those he burns off, which in turn is affected by his general speed of metabolism. Our media these days bombard us with different programs that proclaim to be quick fixes for weight loss. In truth, while one adheres to any "diet" that decreases her intake of calories, she will likely lose weight. But the quick fix is just as quick to disappear once she becomes bored with that selective diet. In fact, we know that after leaving a diet plan most people will binge, and their weight will rebound to levels above their pre-diet weight. The only time-proven means for a person to lose weight and keep it off is to not only reshape his baseline eating habits but also to adapt to a lifestyle with more physical activity - thereby having fewer calories in, more burned off and a faster metabolism.

For children, weight management may not be the same as weight loss; a growing child may just need to maintain his current weight as his body continues to grow. So what can you do about weight management for your child? There is no quick fix short of lifestyle change. This is not easy but it is an attainable goal. One widely used and simple message is "5-2-1-0." This encourages eating 5 servings per day of fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting total screen time (TV, movies and computer/video games) to no more than 2 hours per day, striving for at least 1 hour of exercise or active play time per average day, and cutting out all the liquid calories (pop, fruity juices and sports drinks). Talk to your Pediatric clinician to learn how to tailor a healthier lifestyle plan specific to your child.

Dr. Jordan Marmet is a Pediatrician at South Lake Pediatrics in Minnetonka. He has a special interest in and heads South Lake's Committee on Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles, and is a contributing member to the Children's Physician Network (CPN) Obesity Taskforce.

Categories: Children's Health, Health & Wellness,

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