One of the most disturbing things I see in the emergency room is obese children.
Childhood obesity is becoming more and more prevalent in North America and we, as a society, are not doing a very good job of dealing with it. In fact many factors, especially market forces, are adding to the problem.
Obesity in all age groups is generally on the rise because many of us adults are not taking control of our lives and living in such a way that minimizes weight gain. That is our own fault. Sure there are many foods available that are unhealthy and predispose us to gain weight but the final decisions on what and how much to eat and whether or not to get enough daily exercise are ours alone.
With children it is a different matter. Initially children eat what we adults give them. Once kids are in school and particularly when they are old enough to spend after school hours away from home we parents have less control over their eating habits.
There are things we can do to keep our children healthy and at an optimal weight.
The health of a child begins in the womb. If a mother is herself obese before and throughout the pregnancy she is likely to have a child that is overweight when it is born. High insulin levels in the mother resulting from a high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet affect the unborn child and can lead to macrosomia, also known as “large for gestational age” or a baby weighing more than 8 lbs. 13 oz. at birth.
Obese mothers often develop gestational diabetes and this condition can lead to hormonal and electrolyte disturbances and other complications in the newborn. Large babies are more likely to encounter difficulties getting through the birth canal and often end up requiring forceps delivery or Caesarian section. They are also more likely to end up in the neonatal intensive care unit. They are more likely to become obese and to develop Type 2 diabetes themselves. Women who are obese should make every effort to get back to a normal weight before deciding to become pregnant.
Once a child is born the best thing a mother can do for her own and the baby’s overall health and to prevent childhood obesity is to breastfeed her baby, at least for a year (recommended by the American Pediatric Society) or longer. Infants who are formula fed are more likely to become obese and also suffer more childhood infections, some of them life-threatening and are more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes. Breast milk is every baby’s birthright and is the best gift parents can give their children.
As kids are growing it is important to minimize the availability of junk food in their environment. Children are not the ones going out shopping for groceries. If a child is eating a lot of sugary and processed foods, drinking sodas and not eating fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats and eggs it is the fault of the parents.
Children will not by choice starve themselves. If only healthy food are offered children will eat them. If sugary and other unnatural foods are available they will often pick them over the good foods. The simple solution for the child who will not eat healthy foods is for the parents, the ones responsible for raising the child, to eliminate unhealthy foods from the home.
If kids are raised in a family that values healthy eating habits they will adopt such habits as a matter of course. Sure, they might sometimes eat junk food when they are out with their friends but overall they will have been raised to make healthy choices.
The health of a child is basically the responsibility of the parents. When I see obese children in the emergency room I know that in most instances the parents are not taking that responsibility seriously. In some cases it is a simple matter of the parents not knowing any better or of they themselves being brought up in an environment that fostered obesity.
But we are all capable of learning. We can all read and learn how to ensure the health of our children. Often when parents become aware of what they must do to help their children they learn how to help themselves as well and thereby become healthier. It’s a win-win situation.