Friday, August 14, 2009

Children and Their Weight

Just pick up the newspaper or a current periodical and read the numerous articles about our country’s overweight problem. There are even more articles about our children and the problems associated with excessive weight. Karen DeBord, Ph.D., Professor & Extension Specialist for NC State University states,Being overweight can have a number of psychological consequences -- and a new University of Missouri study has found that overweight children begin to show signs of these negative consequences as early as kindergarten. Both boys and girls who were overweight from kindergarten through third grade displayed more depression, anxiety, and loneliness than children who were never overweight, and those symptoms worsened over time. This was especially pronounced in girls; according to University of Missouri's Sara Gable, "Teachers reported that these girls had less positive social relations and displayed less self-control and more acting out than never-overweight girls." As a teacher in high school, I witnessed this with many of my overweight students. The young girls naturally want to dress in the latest teen fashions. Unfortunately, many of those styles do not lend themselves to sizes above 16. The larger styles tend to look more matronly and not something that a young girl would like to wear. In my classes there were many challenges. How do you talk to an overweight teen about watching calories and fat grams when their thin friends are totally oblivious watching movies, eating the traditional teen foods of pizza, soft drinks, and brownies? How do you talk to that teen about shopping and see her frustration as she knows that all the really cool clothes don’t look that cool on her? It is my thought that the first strategy could be to take on a united front. Try not to make a big deal about being overweight. Take the approach that “it is time for out family to clean up our act.” You control the grocery list. Eliminate soft drinks first. I opt for water. Those energy and vitamin drinks are also unnecessary expenses. Don’t even have them in the house. Secondly, cut out the junk food. Contrary to what they may tell you, the teens will not starve if you also eliminate the junk. Instead, buy fruits and vegetables that you can wash, cut up, and put into little snack bags in the refrigerator. Make these their only alternative when the snack monster hits. Finally, make it a family project to be more active. They will probably protest mightily, but get the whole family on their feet and out the door for a walk every evening after dinner for at least thirty minutes. Life minus soft drinks and junk snacks plus a daily walk will yield results. I promise! The next question is. How do you know when your teen is truly overweight and not jus “big boned?” I have heard this rationalization more than one time. The term BMI is being tossed around more and more. This is an indicator of body fat. For adults, the Center for Disease Control has a specific chart for adults. The first step is to determine your BMI. This is done with the following formula: body weight divided by height in inches divided by height in inches multiplied by 703. For example if someone weighed 185 pounds and their height was 5’ 9” they would calculate their BMI as follows: 185 divided by 69 divided by 69 X 703 = 27.3. Now look at the following chart from the CDC.

Below 18.5 Underweight

18.5 – 24.9 Normal

25.0 – 29.9 Overweight

30.0 and Above Obese

According to the chart, this individual is overweight. For children, BMI is calculated in the same manner. However, the same chart would not be used for children. To determine if a child is considered overweight, one would need to consult the CDC website. A child’s status depends on which percentile that the child’s BMI falls into. BMI is a good way to begin taking charge of your health and the health of your family.