The prevalence of obesity among our nation’s youth has more than doubled in the past 20 years, with close to 5 million youths aged 6 to 17 seriously overweight or obese. The concerns caused by overweight are more than a cosmetic issue. Childhood obesity leads to a variety of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that 60 percent of overweight 5- to 10-year-olds already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as raised blood pressure or insulin levels.2
Many adolescent boys and girls in the United States are currently trying to lose weight (36 and 44 percent, respectively). One-fourth to one-third of dieting adolescents practice unhealthy or even dangerous diets.3 In a study of 5- to 12-year-olds, 45 percent of the girls and 20 percent of the boys reported having been on a diet.4 Cutting calories dramatically is often effective at lowering weight for the short term, but this usually results in overeating or binge eating and regaining of any lost weight. High-protein, low-carbohydrate, and very-low calorie diets are not safe for children or teens.
Instead, children (and adults) merely need to switch to healthy foods. When the diet is built from fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, weight management is much easier, and putting limits on calories is unnecessary. For example, a veggie burger has 0.5 grams of fat, saving 20 grams of fat and 180 calories (compared to hamburger at 21 grams of fat and 444 calories). A homemade bean burrito with lettuce, tomato, and salsa has 2 grams of fat, saving 16 grams of fat and 135 calories (compared to a fast-food chili-cheese burrito with 18 grams of fat and 390 calories). It’s easy to make the switch and well worth the time.
The bottom line is that it is always the right time to adopt a healthful diet. It is important to help all children, regardless of body size, choose a healthy eating style and incorporate fun physical activity into their lives for now and in the future.
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