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Preventing Obesity in Children and Teens

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA

Obesity in children is a growing problem, according to the American Heart Association. Obesity is associated with several health-related conditions and ailments, including diabetes and heart disease. A child is considered obese when his weight is 10 percent or more above the recommended weight for his height and body type. Based on recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity in children aged 6 to 11 years old increased from 7 to 18 percent between 1980 and 2010. Over the same period, obesity rose from 5 to 18 percent for adolescents aged 12 to 19 years old. The CDC has also reported that, as the prevalence of obesity increased among children and adolescents, incidents of tooth decay also rose, which suggests a link between dental health and weight. Recent trends in research confirm this relationship.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), diabetes and heart disease have been increasingly identified as potential precursors to periodontal disease, which is an infection in the gums and the jawbone. Medications for high blood pressure, often taken by people who struggle with obesity, can also have adverse effects on the oral cavity due to their side effects. The most common side effects of these medications are dry mouth and overgrowth of the gums, which can cause plaque to get trapped beneath. Both side effects can lead to periodontal disease and cavities. It is important to note the connection between diets that are high in carbohydrates and nutritionally deficient and oral health. Foods that expose the teeth to an excessive amount of sugar and acid increase the risk of tooth decay and enamel erosion. 

The first step toward managing your child's obesity is to see a health care professional, who can determine whether a child is actually obese and not afflicted by a medical condition. Parents should not restrict caloric intake based on the child's appearance. An over-restricted diet may prevent normal growth and development. The following are recommendations by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for managing obesity in children and adolescents.

Change Eating Habits and Develop a Routine

A set dinner schedule is an excellent way for the entire family to sit down and eat together. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal, and research has shown that kids who eat breakfast may do better in school. Eating home-prepared foods is also a great way to control the types and amounts of food a child consumes.

Control Portions and Consume Fewer Calories

Children develop likes and dislikes very early in life. Find fun and creative ways to make their favorite meals healthier. Provide plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains at every meal. Water contains fewer calories than soda, and it's good for teeth too. Go out to eat only on special occasions. Restaurants tend to have much higher fat, carbohydrate and salt content in their meals, not to mention the enormous portions!

Limit Snacking

Moderate snacking is fine, but the amount of junk food available at home should be limited. Do not eliminate snacks altogether or all at once. Doing so may cause children to overindulge their cravings when they are away from home. Having a variety of healthy snacks such as string cheese, whole grain snacks, fruits and veggies available can help children avoid the temptation of junk food. Instead of regular fries, try baked fries. Replace ice cream with low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet. Graham crackers, fig bars and vanilla wafers are a great replacement for sugar-rich pastries, such as doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies.

Increase Physical Activity

Talking about the value of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will help children understand their benefits. Do activities together. Going for a brisk walk, playing games, playing soccer, dancing, swimming and even playing tag will encourage children to have a more active lifestyle. It's important to reduce sedentary time spent in front of the television or playing video games. Many game systems have active, full-body games for those days when going out is just not possible.

Eating well-balanced and nutritious foods will help children stabilize their energy, hone their concentration and increase their happiness levels. By using these tips, parents can establish healthy habits that continue throughout their children's lives.

Learn more about obesity in children and teens in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

Source: N/A

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