Unhealthy Kids = Shorter Lives?

Today's children may be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.

The problem is outlined in a story in Child magazine called "The New Pediatric Scare."

Dr. Richard Saphir, a pediatrician and a member of the editorial advisory board at Child magazine, tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, "The crisis is that our children are getting heavier."

He explains, "The statistics, which you won't believe, are that in the last 30 years the amount of overweight children from 6 to 11 years of age have doubled. The amount of overweight in the 12 to 17 year age group has tripled. This has led to what used to be called, adult diseases, now coming out in children. We have a tremendous risk now, especially if there is any family history, of what's called, adult onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, starting in children."

For those who may not know exactly what diabetes is Dr. Saphir explains, "Diabetes is sugar in the blood. The children get all the symptoms that an adult would have that require insulin to get their shots for diabetes. And they really get sick. It also influences their life and puts them at risk for cardiac complications later, kidney complications, and eyesight complications. The difference being that in children, when they get Type 2 diabetes, you don't need medications usually. You don't need anything other than get rid of that weight."

The other chronic diseases that childhood obesity lead to are high blood pressure, which Dr. Saphir notes "you don't think of for children. This is another thing that overweight can lead to. Also, not requiring medications to treat, but requiring to get that weight down, get some more exercise, and get in better shape. And then, the third is elevated cholesterol. You don't think of children with high cholesterol getting plaques in their arteries and a lower incident of good health and higher incidence of heart disease as they get a bit older. So that these are things that affect children now that will affect their general lifespan and their lifespan as they get older."

Dr. Saphir has four concrete suggestions to help parents control their children's weight:

Eat Meals Together: This allows you to monitor what your child is eating while modeling healthy habits yourself.

Don't Offer Meal Alternatives: If you child doesn't like what's for dinner, too bad. Don't offer to rustle up an alternative that your child can eat while you have your own dinner. For one thing, these alternatives often wind up being unhealthy convenience foods. Also, your child eats enough during the day that you don't need to worry that she will "go hungry." Skipping a meal now and then is OK.

Guide Caregivers: If you are a working parent, don't leave nutrition decisions in someone else's hands. Specifically spell out for caregivers what your child should and shouldn't eat.

Encourage Physical Activity: This sounds like a no-brainer but chances are you need to radically re-think your outlook on exercise for kids.

When many kids get home from school they have to sit down and do their homework before they can play. Or, maybe they can relax in front of the TV for 30 minutes first. According to Dr. Saphir, you should send your kids outside the minute they get home from school. Play tag or have them shoot baskets for 30 minutes before they do anything else.
  • Rome Neal

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