Be extra aware of childhood obesity this month

Published 8:48 am Friday, September 10, 2010

Jennifer Levisen, Vitality Viewpints

“Without proper prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, our current generation could become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.”

I heard that at the Pioneering Healthier Communities conference last December. It made me sit up and take notice then and it still does. Because now, what do we do about it?

Jennifer Levisen

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In his proclamation declaring September National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, President Obama says one of our greatest responsibilities is to safeguard the health and well-being of our children. Right now, we’re facing a national crisis: nearly one in every three of America’s children is overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents, according to It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

So what can we do? While our local schools are implementing healthy snack cart programs, thanks to the Statewide Health Improvement Project, and working to make school lunches healthier, we can set a great example by creating a healthy environment at home.

And kids — well, kids get to do the fun stuff. Play outside, be adventurous by trying new foods, and even help plan and make family meals. Heck, I might even give that stuff a try. I know my husband would appreciate it.

Here are some tips:

1. Snack healthier. Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl. Put chips, cookies, and ice cream out of sight and on a high shelf or the back of the freezer, and move healthier foods to eye level. We all tend to consume more of the foods we have easier access to.

2. Make physical activity part of the daily routine and set specific goals. Saying you want to get more exercise is great, but committing to walking Fido daily is even better. And schedule it. Choose times of the day or week when everyone is most likely to stick with it.

3. Plan a healthy menu and get the kids involved in planning and cooking. Cut back on sugar intake by substituting water for soda and juice with added sugar, or even reduce the serving size. Serving sizes for sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks and smoothies fit in a small coffee cup. Eating breakfast and keeping an eye on portion sizes are good things to remember too.

4. Reduce screen time and get active. Parents and caregivers can set a good example with this one. If you limit screen time to no more than two hours a day and your kids see you following your own rules, they’ll be more likely to do the same.

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Jennifer Levisen is a member of the Pioneering Healthier Communities Team and is the Community Relations and Marketing Specialist at Albert Lea Medical Center.