Childhood Obesity: Let's Act Before We Lose a Generation

Promotions, like those by HHS, are all well and good; they call attention to the problem and keep it before the public. But the best solutions to the problem of childhood obesity likely rest with the notions of individual responsibility and parental supervision.

Steps to a Healthier Childhood

Young people and their parents -- because parental supervision and their roles in setting examples are critical to reversing the trend -- must "take stock" of their exercise and eating habits, and a new school year presents an opportune time to do so. Let me offer the following as steps to a healthier lifestyle.

Check your body mass index, to see what a healthy weight is for your size. Visit the Massachusetts Medical Society at www.massmed.org/healthyweight or the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/bmi.

Monitor the quality of your diet at mypyramid.gov, a U.S. Department of Agriculture site offering help on planning and evaluating food choices.

Monitor your weight regularly, either weekly or bi-weekly, to chart progress.

Limit those "fast foods" with high-calorie, low-nutrition content.

Increase portion sizes of salads, vegetables and fruits; decrease sizes of higher calorie foods like pasta and bread.

Drink more water and less juice or energy drinks.

Eat fruit or vegetables for snacks instead of chips, crackers, or cookies.

Don't skip meals, especially breakfast, because you'll only eat more later. If you're "eating on the run," drink a low-calorie, no-sugar-added, nutritional drink.

Plan exercise into your schedule, like walking, bicycling, or in-line skating. Use the stairs, take exercise breaks while studying, or walk home from school if possible.

Get more sleep, at least 8-9 hours per night. This helps avoid extra calories from late night snacking.

Include calcium in your diet, such as low fat yogurt, fat-free chocolate milk, or low fat pudding.

The equation is simple: it's calories in, calories out. If you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight. If you take in less, you lose weight. We have to move more, eat less, and eat better. These tips need not be done all at once. You can adopt a few at a time, as small steps over time can make a big difference. Don't worry if you fall back once in a while. The important thing is to keep at it. And one final note. Those suggestions above? They work just as well for adults, too.

Denise C. Rollinson, M.D., a diplomat of the American Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists, is chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society's Committee on Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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