Tips to tackling childhood obesity as a family
Approximately one in six children in the United States has obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is why September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. By bringing awareness to this issue for an entire month each year, children – and their parents – become educated and empowered to pursue healthy, active lifestyles.
“Children with obesity have a higher risk of other chronic health diseases and conditions, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” said Audrey Hall, MD, Pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s Briargate Medical Offices. “Unfortunately, we are also now seeing an increase in the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in the pediatric population.”
Many factors can contribute to childhood obesity. While poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle are primary causes, genetics, metabolism, lack of sleep, and a general lack of access to community activities and healthful foods are contributors as well. Children ages five to 16 are in front of a screen – be it computer, television or smartphone – six and half hours daily on average. This is another root cause for increased inactivity among children (and adults).
“Parents need to be role models. Modeling behaviors and eating habits for children is really important,” said Hall. “I would advise making household changes and leading by example, versus just putting all the pressure on one kid.” One quick change families can make is to eliminate soda in the household. Additionally, families can enjoy physical activities together, limit screen time to two hours or less per day, and to stock the home with healthful foods like fruits and vegetables – rather than high-sugar or highly-processed foods.
As a pediatrician, Hall gets involved by addressing weight issues, giving nutritional tips, and motivating kids to get in shape and lose weight. She also directs members to take advantage of Kaiser Permanente’s many resources to jumpstart the process; including fantastic online resources, such as The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective, which features games, guides, tips and goal-setting charts for kids, parents and educators.
Kaiser Permanente also has registered dieticians available for consultation. If a child’s lab screening results are abnormal, the patient is referred to a registered dietician who will work with the patient on a consistent basis – providing support to avoid long term health consequences. “Sometimes it’s hard to achieve health goals with one annual visit to the pediatrician, so it’s nice to have Kaiser Permanente’s large network of dieticians and other medical professionals providing additional resources.”
It’s important for parents to not be judgmental or overly harsh with their child, and to have realistic goals. The transformation should be very slow and nothing drastic, with small interventions that will make a big difference. Obesity comes with emotional stresses for children, so it’s important to approach the subject with compassion and sensitivity.
Five ways parents can help their children prevent or treat childhood obesity are:
- To be aware of their child’s growth.
- Provide lower-calorie, nutritious foods.
- Make sure that drinking water is always available as a zero-calorie alternative to sugary beverages.
- Encourage the recommended amount of physical activity.
- Be a role model by leading a healthy lifestyle, with plenty exercise and nutritious food.
On all visit summaries, Hall shares the 5-2-1-0 rule. This national initiative, “5210 Let’s Go!”, outlines the optimal five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours or less or screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugared beverages. Physical activity can include competitive sports, walking the dog, going to the playground, etc.
Here in Colorado Springs we are fortunate to have access to an abundance of parks, trails and community activities. Coming up this holiday season are three Kaiser Permanente-sponsored events that can jump-start a healthy lifestyle for the whole family. The first is the Creepy Crawl on Saturday, October 28; followed by the Turkey Trot on Thursday, November 23; and finally, the Jingle Bell Race on Saturday, December 9. Embrace the joy of being active in this YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region 5K run series presented by Kaiser Permanente.
Hall, a Colorado native, has been with Kaiser Permanente as a pediatrician for nearly three years, and appreciates Kaiser Permanente’s emphasis on prevention. “Kids are a great age group, they’re resilient, they’re open to suggestions, and I love the opportunity to intervene early and prevent long-term health complications,” she said. “Obesity treatment is a difficult process, but kids are very receptive and with some encouragement and motivation from doctors, teachers, and parents, they can find the ways to feel better and improve their health.”
Audrey Hall, MD, is accepting new patients.
- Audrey Hall, MD, is with the state’s largest physician group—the Colorado Permanente Medical Group—which serves the 680,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente can help your family thrive, visit kp.org or