The 3 S’s of Childhood Obesity

7 Jan

I’m sitting here watching the Biggest Loser premier with the first ever kids included.  I am proud of the show for taking on this complicated issue.  In the first workout with the kids, the trainers did several things that were particularly helpful.

They first of all focused on finding ways to keep the kids active that were consistent with activities they would have liked anyway.  The example tonight was a baseball-themed exercise for a child who likes baseball.

Obesity in teenagers and children is a growing problem across the United States.  Identifying the percentage of children and teens that are obese is difficult because it’s a moving target, but I think the number sits around 40-50%.  No matter if you believe that number or not, all you have to do is look around the mall or your child’s school to see that it is more common than it needs to be.

In order to determine if a child has a problem with obesity, it helps to put a number on your weight.  Of course, it’s not fair to compare a teenager who is 6 feet tall to one who is 5 feet tall.  A consistent measurement is known as the body mass index, or BMI.  Body mass index is a measurement of weight for height that gives you an idea of how your weight would compare to other males/females with your height.  Here are a couple of calculators for KIDS and TEENS that will give you an idea of where your child stands.

If you find yourself falling into the overweight or obese category, then we have some work to do.  There are lots of resources that you can go to in order to get help, but I think the best and a very comprehensive one is sponsered by Stanford Children’s Hospital and webMD.

When I deal with childhood obesity, I never focus on the weight. With my patients, I want to focus on healthy lifestyle choices and making sure they’re starting healthy habits. Most children (except the extremely obese) don’t need to lose a lot of weight to be ok; they simply need to maintain current weight a little longer than their peers. They still have the advantage of continued growth in height so they typically don’t have to rapidly drop 30 pounds to make this work.

Here are some general thoughts that I like to review with patients whenever I have a discussion about obesity.

The 3 S’s of Childhood Obesity: Soda, Snacks and Screen Time

1) Soda – It is amazing the number of sodas that my patients (especially those that are overweight) drink. Many drink on the order of 40-60 ounces per day, or two to three 20-ounce sodas. A typical teenager only needs between 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day. You can imagine, at 240 calories per 20 ounce bottle, that racking up between 500-750 calories with just soda is a pretty good head start to their total calories for the day. Many families respond by saying that they only drink water or tea at their house, but on further conversation, they are talking about sweet tea with cups of sugar per gallon (Which might even be worse…I’m not going to waste the time doing the calculation because it doesn’t matter – it’s bad for you.  Just stop.). A good substitution I have found is Crystal Light or another sugar/calorie free substitute. This alone can make a huge difference to a child who is struggling with their weight.

Along with everything else we will talk about, cutting out sodas has to be a family decision and plan. Parents can’t have the sodas in the fridge (because you “NEED” them) and expect that your children won’t get into them the first time you turn your back. Especially if your obese child can’t drive; there is no excuse for non-driving kiddos to have soda because someone has to be buying it for them….

2) Snacks – Snack choices devastate our kids who are trying to lose weight. Many of my patients expect their afternoon snack to be chips, candy bars or a sugary snack. These calories are pointless and damaging to any attempt to lose weight. It’s one thing to have something like this every now and then but to expect them every single day is not going to work for any child trying to lose weight. The ideal thing is to have fruits and vegetables around the house for snacks. This will significantly improve their overall calorie intake for the day and start a process towards overall healthy eating during meal times. This is another example where the decision has to be a family decision. There will never be a change made if the child is expected to resist the temptation of all the junk food sitting in the pantry.

3) Screen time – While diet remains a huge part of the problem concerning childhood obesity, I think the biggest problem facing our kids today is inactivity. Schools are requiring less and less physical education and are sending more and more homework home. This adds up to a long day of sitting still without any way of burning calories. Then, after students complete their homework, they are exhausted and want to do nothing but sit in front of a TV or computer screen to get some time relaxing, watching TV or playing video games. The major thing we have to do is to get our kids out of the house and doing something active. I think this should always start as a family exercise. Walking around the block (if you live in a safe neighborhood) is a great way to start. You cannot sit on the couch and order your kid outside to do his exercise…this will never work. Please get out and do something with them.

In summary, here are the simple things that I think you can do to get your child, and maybe your family, on the road to a healthy lifestyle: decrease soda, unhealthy snacks and screen time. Increase water, fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity. We can make a difference in the lives of our kids. Let’s do it before Bob, Jillian and Dolvett are necessary.


3 Responses to “The 3 S’s of Childhood Obesity”

  1. ssuire January 7, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Thank you Justin for this informative post! I agree with you on all points and will share this with my readers as well. Childhood obesity is a topic that needs to be addressed and I like that all of your points include the fact that this needs to be a family change. Small healthy choices will add up, for both parents and kids.

  2. Jared and Leah Hammett January 9, 2013 at 7:11 pm #



  1. January’s Top 3 Blog Posts « doctorjsmith - February 1, 2013

    […] The 3 S’s of Childhood Obesity […]

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