BY SEEMA CSUKAS, M.D., Ph.D
Medical Director, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Child Wellness and Medical Director, Georgia Children’s Health Alliance.
Childhood obesity is a problem throughout America, but it’s an epidemic in Georgia, where approximately 37 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese.
If those numbers aren’t staggering enough, a recent report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation listed Georgia as the third-highest population of overweight and obese youths in the U.S.
Obese children are prone to suffer from a host of chronic medical conditions, including asthma, gallbladder disease, pneumonia and Type 2 diabetes. They also have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, typically found only in adults. Furthermore, overweight or obese children also have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
Poor health outcomes impact children and their academic success. Illness and injury can take children out of school, and poorly managed chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, distract children from their school work.
As obese children are more likely to be hospitalized, their parents have to miss work to care for them, reducing family income and worker productivity. Childhood obesity-related health care in the U.S. costs an estimated $14 billion a year, according to a study by researchers at Thomson Reuters.
Childhood obesity is a complicated issue with no one solution. It is, however, preventable, and there are many ways parents can encourage their children to lead healthier lifestyles. Family participation is noted to be one of the most effective ways to tackle childhood obesity.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has developed a wellness Web site to encourage families to adopt healthier lifestyles. MyFamilyHealthSpot.org features personalized meal planners, fitness and nutrition trackers, health information and activity ideas. Here, children can take an active role in their own health. Educational games, child-friendly recipes and reward points encourage kids to be active and eat more fruits and vegetables. With sections tailored to the needs of parents, teens and children, MyFamilyHealthSpot.org is a one-stop shop for family wellness.
Ultimately, healthy children with healthy habits are more likely to be healthy adults. With more than 2.5 million children living in Georgia, we have to tackle childhood obesity to ensure the health and well-being of our children.