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Obesity and Diabetes in Children

The Importance of Exercise and a Healthy Diet

Regular physical exercise and a healthy, whole-foods based diet are the most important steps you can take to prevent type II diabetes and obesity in both adults and children. 

It is important to have the whole family commit to a healthy lifestyle, making it easier on everyone by keeping sugary drinks and junk food out of the home.  The time and effort spent modeling good lifestyle behaviors are very worthwhile, resulting in healthier, happier kids who develop good habits that will help them enjoy a happier, healthier life. It is an investment that pays a lifetime of dividends.

Be sure to serve protein and healthy fats at every meal, and keep the portions moderate. Eat a variety of protein sources and a variety of fruits and vegetables. It may also be necessary to supplement healthy fat intake with omega-3 fatty acids. Good omega-3 sources include salmon, spinach, and walnuts.

Kids should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.  Bike riding, walking, swimming, and playing various team and individual sports are good options.  Encourage your kids to try new activities and to select the types of exercise that they find most appealing. As parents, we want to be sure we're exercising regularly, too!

Obesity and diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent in America's youth. It is an epidemic that is endangering the health and welfare of our youth. In New York City, by the age of 4, there is a one in three chance that the child will be obese. More than 40% of children are at an unhealthy weight at ages 2 and 3.1 National statistics are similar.

Type II diabetes has traditionally been known as "adult-onset diabetes", but unfortunately more and more children and teenagers are being diagnosed with it these days.  Obesity and the lack of physical exercise are the two major risk factors.

The problems don't end there, as obesity and diabetes contribute to additional serious health problems. Obesity is the leading cause of pediatric high blood pressure and increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Uncontrolled diabetes, over time, can lead to neurological disorders, kidney and/or heart disease, blindness and other issues.

The silver lining to this very dire news is that both conditions are lifestyle-related. Bad diet and lack of exercise cause these conditions which means we have the power to stop this epidemic by making better lifestyle choices. It is well-known that maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise prevents obesity and prevents or delays type II diabetes.2,3

What can you do to prevent or reverse type II diabetes and obesity in children, and their related health challenges?  As parents, it is important to set healthy standards and model positive behavior for our children. If we make it a habit to eat whole foods and balanced, healthy meals, our kids will follow our lead. If we make regular exercise a priority and keep ourselves fit and trim, our kids are much more likely to do the same. 

Encourage your kids to try sporting activities that interest them, and see if you can come up with some additional activities that will allow the whole family to get some exercise together.  It is important to also limit the time your children spend watching television and playing video games. 

Another key is to encourage your children to drink water and avoid sugary drinks.  Even fruit juice is not a good alternative to water, because it contains sugar in the form of fructose which is almost as problematic as the high-fructose corn syrup in sodas and other products. 

According to Yale researchers, sugary drinks are the highest source of added sugar in the typical American diet, and the number one source of calories in the diet of a typical American teenager.  Make sure to read the labels too, because even drinks that are promoted as "healthy" such as vitamin water and energy drinks can be high in sugar and can sometimes also contain dangerous artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame, and other chemicals.  Visit the Sugary Drink Facts website for more information on the Yale study.

1"Child obesity picture grim among New York City poor", The New York Times, April 6, 2006.

2Hamman RF, et al: Effect of weight loss with lifestyle intervention on risk of diabetes. Diabetes Care 29:2102-2107, 2006.

3Knowler WC, et al: Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. New England Journal of Medicine 346(6):393-403, 2002.

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