We’ve all heard the old adage, “clean your plate,” but encouraging a child to clean his or her plate may be encouraging over-eating, creating premature health problems in today’s youth.
National surveys show that 20 percent of preschoolers and 30 percent of school-age children are overweight, with 15 percent of school-age children considered obese. In the last 20 years, the number of overweight children has doubled, while the number of obese adolescents has tripled. This epidemic equally affects both sexes and all races; however, African- American and Hispanic children are more at risk. The extra pounds can cause severe cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. These risk factors in childhood can lead to serious adult problems, such as heart disease, heart failure and stroke. To combat excess weight in your child, work to improve the diet and exercise levels of your entire family by:
• Buying more fruits and vegetables. Let your child help choose fresh produce at the store with you.
• Buying less sodas and high-calorie, high-fat snacks. Chips and cookies are acceptable as occasional treats, but healthy foods, such as fruit and whole grains, are better for routine snacks.
• Offering more water and low-fat milk. Low-fat milk offers important nutrients, such as calcium and Vitamin D, for a child’s development. Fruit juice is healthy if it’s 100 percent juice, but it must be limited because it is high in calories.
• Limiting TV and video games. Turn off the TV, and encourage children to be physically active at least 20 minutes a day. In addition to those healthy choices, reduce the portion sizes of foods you serve to your children. Children should have three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day. A good rule-of-thumb for estimating the correct portion size is “one tablespoon per year of life” for children one to six, according to the Children’s Nutrition Research Center.
For older children and adults, the Food Guide Pyramid says the appropriate portion size per serving is:
• 3/4 cup juice
• 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
• 1/2 cup chopped raw, canned or cooked fruit or other vegetable Other tips to control children’s portion sizes, both at home and when dining out, include:
• Buy only single serving or “bitesize” snacks.
• Review food labels and give children only the recommended serving size.
• Avoid letting children eat from a bag of snacks or carton of ice cream, since they likely will consume much more than one serving.
• Let children have only have extra salad or vegetables if they are still hungry after a meal.
• Choose child portions, small orders or half orders when dining out. Adults should encourage and model healthy food choices. Teaching children healthy habits while they are young can last a lifetime.
Spreading the message
Dr. Withrow shares this information with students, and Western Baptist Hospital sponsors Project Fit America to promote health and fitness in area schools.
How do I learn more?
To learn more about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment for heart disease, visit westernbaptist.com/heart. You can take a free, five-minute online heart risk survey and become eligible for reduced-cost cardiac screenings at Baptist Prime Care. You also may phone Baptist Health Line at (270) 575-2918. Send your questions!