September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

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What you can do to help protect the children you love

Childhood obesity is an important public health issue in the United States, with one out of every three children overweight or obese. While that statistic can be alarming, University of Tennessee Extension community health specialist Soghra Jarvandi says there are steps families and caregivers can take to help children achieve healthy weights.
“Obesity is associated with many negative physical outcomes, such as asthma and metabolic issues, and emotional problems as well,” says Jarvandi. “Children who are overweight or obese may become obese or overweight adults, with a higher risk of several health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, disability and some cancers.”
In Tennessee, the rates of obesity and overweight are higher than the national average. For students in grades 9-12, 20.5 percent are obese, compared with the national average of 14.8 percent, and 17.5 percent are overweight, compared with 15.6 percent nationally.
According to Jarvandi, “There are both hereditary and environmental causes of obesity. Influences begin in utero and early life and continue into adulthood.” The expert sites many lifestyle factors, including poor diet, a lack of physical activity, and too little sleep as risk factors for gaining weight. Environmental factors can also play a role in our health, making eating healthy and being physically active either easier or harder, based on where we live and work.
Strategies to prevent childhood obesity should target families and individuals, but should also include communities, neighborhoods and broad policies that make healthy choices easier choices.
For families, Jarvandi suggests parents consult healthcare providers about their child’s weight. Healthcare providers use heights and weights to assess a child’s weight status over time and provide nutrition and physical activity counseling.
Families and caregivers play an important role in the development of food preferences early in a child’s life, starting with breastfeeding and then later as the role models for a child’s eating habits. In general, children should start the day with a healthy breakfast and eat nutritious foods including whole fruits and vegetables. Children should also be physically active, with limited time using a computer, handheld device, or watching television.
For additional help and programs specifically about healthy choices, contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office by calling 989-2103 or following the Facebook page “UT Extension—Chester County”.