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Diet and Nutrition

Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Kids: A Key to Solving the Obesity Epidemic

In the past 30 years, the rate of obesity (above the 95th percentile for age and gender) has tripled for children ages 6 to 19. Currently, about one in six children and adolescents are considered to be obese, with even higher rates in certain ethnic populations and in children with low socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition to increasing the risk of becoming an obese adult, obese children have a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea and low self-esteem.

What can be done to prevent and treat obesity among children? Encouraging healthy lifestyle habits is the key to preventing and treating obesity in children. Although healthy eating habits and physical activity are the cornerstones of treatment, studies continue to show that American youth consume nutrient-deficient diets that are high in calories, fat, and sugar and they spend an increasing amount of time in sedentary activities.

Who is responsible for improving the lifestyle habits of our youth?

The responsibility for addressing the issue of obesity and promoting wellness among children lies in several hands: the government, schools, medical community and families. The federal government has recognized the need for nationwide interventions that promote healthy eating and physical activity.

Since 2006, school districts must have wellness committees that develop policies for (1) implementing and evaluating nutrition education and physical activity and (2) nutrition guidelines for all foods available at school.

Therefore, depending on the school districts' policies, many schools are offering healthier, nutrient-packed foods in their cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and classrooms, as well as more opportunities for physical activity during the school day.

Although schools may have an impact on children's habits, these messages must be reinforced by health care professionals, parents and families. Here are some simple, practical tips for improving the health of kids nationwide: ยท

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Last Reviewed: Jan 24, 2010

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Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati