American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

family bikingThere's no doubt that childhood obesity has become a nationwide issue, the future implications of which largely remain unknown. According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal, however, it appears we may have underestimated the severity of the issue.

Researchers from the University of Oxford examined data from nearly 50,000 school-aged children in developed countries to investigate the effect of body mass index on cardiovascular disease risk. They found that those who were overweight and obese exhibited greater risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, compared to those who were underweight or normal weight. Not surprisingly, the researchers referred to obesity’s effect on future cardiovascular disease as "substantial" and "concerning."

These findings are undoubtedly alarming, and may be the wake-up call our country needs to start taking more serious measures to eliminate this epidemic. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, and is largely a result of kids eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. Children today are exposed to a number of environmental factors that may make it difficult for them to make healthy lifestyle choices, including:

  • fewer healthy food and drink options
  • a lack of daily, quality physical activity on school campuses
  • easier access to highly-caloric foods and sugary drinks
  • increased portion sizes
  • increased exposure to ads for unhealthy foods on TV and in the media
  • limited access to safe recreation centers

As parents, you have the ability to empower your children to make healthy choices for themselves by modeling a healthy lifestyle and making adjustments to your own behaviors. “Changing our children's eating and exercise habits means we have to change our own, as well," explains ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. "If we are honest with ourselves, what we do and the example that we set greatly influences what our children do. It's vitally important that we as parents take on the responsibility of being good, healthy role models for our children when it comes to physical activity and eating sensibly. That means being more thoughtful in terms of buying food, planning meals and looking for opportunities to become more physically active as a family," adds Bryant.

Here are some practical tips on how you can positively influence your children's health and well-being:

  • Limit the amount of junk food you keep in the house.
  • Plan healthy meals in advance that the whole family can enjoy together.
  • Try to get out of the habit of using food as a reward for good behavior.
  • Plan ahead when you eat out so you can make wiser and healthier selections.
  • Look for simple ways to move more as a family. For example, teach your kids the games you played as a child, such as tag, capture the flag, hopscotch, duck duck goose, or red rover.
  • Train your children to connect movement with enjoyment. (Note: Many activities today tend to be conducted in a more structured environment, and many children have forgotten how to play just for the sake of playing.)

At ACE, we are dedicated to combating the childhood obesity epidemic and improving the health and fitness of our youth. As part of these efforts, we provide free educational materials and informational resources to those working to promote youth fitness. Please visit our "Youth Fitness" page for more great tips on how to get kids moving!

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