Obesity is the most common health problem facing youth in the United States

Obesity is the most common health problem facing youth in the United States. More than 23 million children and teenagers (31.8 percent) ages two to 19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic. There are multiple physical, emotional and social risks associated with obesity, including: elevated blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, liver disease, sleep problems, joint pain, depression, low self-esteem and teasing.  

However, parents can reduce or prevent the likelihood of these outcomes by helping their children make simple lifestyle changes. Now is the perfect time for families to work together for healthy changes.  "The severe consequences of obesity underscore the critical importance of helping children and teens engage in healthy lifestyle habits," says Nicole Quinlan, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist. "It's up to the adults that care about youth to encourage these healthy habits."

Small changes at meal and snack times can lead to big changes on the scale and for children's health. Covering half (or more) of a dinner plate with vegetables will improve children's nutrient intake and may reduce their consumption of other, more calorie dense foods. Pre-cut and bagged vegetables make great snacks and are a healthier option than fried, salty, or sugary treats. Likewise, replacing a daily serving of sugar beverages (sodas, sports drinks, juice pouches) with water cuts calories and keeps kids hydrated and healthy. For picky kids, parents can spice up plain water by adding fruit slices or mixing in a very small amount of natural fruit juice.

Parents can also improve their children's fitness level and foster quality family time by replacing afternoon television or video game sessions with a family walk or bike ride, an outdoor game like Frisbee or tag, or a group trip to the local community center. Any activity is good activity, but the goal should be 60 minutes of movement a day. This can be all at once, or broken up into smaller chunks of time throughout the day.

Children will be most successful with these small changes if parents and other adults at home role model the changes themselves. When children see parents making healthy choices in how they shop for food, eat, and move around, they will learn by example.

For additional information about childhood obesity, please contact the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, 717-232-3817.

To learn more about mind/body health, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's website, www.papsy.org.           

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association is a member-driven organization dedicated to promoting and advancing psychology in Pennsylvania, advocating for public access to psychological services, and enhancing multiple dimensions of human welfare while supporting the development of competent and ethical psychologists. Our mission is to educate, update and inform the public and our membership on cutting-edge psychological theory and practice through training activities and public policy initiatives.