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Pediatrician offers ways parents can head off childhood obesity

POSTED: January 8, 2013 1:30 a.m.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t just for grown-ups; kids benefit from healthy changes, too.

But children can’t reach their health and fitness goals without their parents getting on board.

Dr. Chandra Miller, a pediatrician at The Longstreet Clinic, discussed healthy families Thursday at the monthly WomenSource Brown Bag Lunch.

During the presentation, she discussed how families have changed the way they view obesity and unhealthy weight.

Years ago, parents would take their children to the doctor if they suspected a child might be reaching an unhealthy weight. Their biggest concern was the child’s self-esteem.

These days, many parents are overweight or obese themselves and don’t recognize their child’s weight as a health threat.

"Lots of families don’t realize this is a problem," Miller said. "They don’t see the problem because all the other kids in the class look like their child."

Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal announced a statewide initiative to address obesity in Georgia. According to the governor’s office, nearly 40 percent of children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia are considered overweight or obese.

Children are developing obesity-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease at younger ages. These illnesses were once thought to only occur in adults.

"If these children continue on this path, they will probably not live as long as their parents," Miller said.

The good news is that many health problems can be prevented or improved with healthy lifestyle changes.

Miller said it’s important for families as a whole to work together and support each other with healthy changes. But a lot of families seem to think eating healthy is too expensive, she said.

"It might be more expensive in the beginning, but not in the long run," Miller said. "One bag of apples will last longer and make you feel fuller than a bag of chips."

Another way families can improve their health is by eliminating unnecessary sugar from their diets. Miller said families are often shocked to learn how much sugar is contained in drinks like soda and juice.

A 20 ounce Coca-Cola Classic which has 250 calories and 15 teaspoons of sugar. A 15 ounce cup of apple juice has more than 200 calories and 11 teaspoons of sugar.

Even drinks labeled as "100 percent juice" are loaded with calories and sugar.

"The only 100 percent juice I feel is OK is if you’re eating an apple or an orange," Miller said.

Miller also suggested parents stop assuming their children are eating healthy meals at school. While healthy options are often served, children may not make the wisest choices. She suggested packing children a simple lunch with a sandwich, vegetable and fruit and a bottle of water.

Dinner time can provide a great opportunity for parents to expose their children to new foods and healthy habits. Parents can get their children more interested in healthful foods by allowing them to choose a new fruit or vegetable to make with the evening meal.

After dinner, families can incorporate an exercise routine by going on a walk or playing a game.

Angie Beccue, health and wellness manager at the J.A. Walters Family YMCA in Gainesville, said she has noticed more families coming into the gym together.

"In general, health and wellness has been pushed and promoted and families are getting more involved with that," Beccue said.

She said it’s not uncommon to see mothers and some of the older children taking group fitness classes like yoga together.

The YMCA offers group fitness classes geared specifically to children as well.

Beccue said parents can do a lot to help their children reach a healthy weight and live healthy lifestyles by learning more about what choices to make.

One of the things she wishes more families understood is that nutrition is just as beneficial as working out. Helping children learn about healthy foods and how to make healthy choices is critical.

"Diet is important and fitness is important," Beccue said. "Catching onto that at a young age is important. It’s good for kids to know you can get a lot of fun out of fitness."


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