African American Children and Obesity: 4 Steps to Break the Obesity Cycle

This weekend, it was a warm 60 degrees outside, so I laced up my sneakers and took to the neighborhood trail for a workout. I jogged pass the playground and was surprised by the additional weight most children carried. Let’s Move, a national initiative started by First Lady Michelle Obama, to address childhood obesity reports that our society is now eating 31 percent more calories than we were forty years ago–including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970. Since spring is a time for new beginnings, now seems as good a time as any to talk about our children’s health.

A few studies have shown that when one parent in the household is obese, a child is 3 times more likely to be obese. When both parents in the household are obese, the number skyrockets to a child being 10 times more likely to be obese. So before addressing obesity in our children, let me pause and encourage African American adults to also consider our diet, exercise and lifestyle choices. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, African Americans are the most obese group in the United States; 2/3 of the population is over-weight and an alarming 4 out of 5 African American women are obese. If these staggering statistics are not enough to move us to action, think about our children and the example(s) we have placed before them about healthy living. An astounding 40% of all African American children are obese. The increase in obesity, in large part may be a result of our sedentary lifestyle. A report on found that eight to 18-year old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including, TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity. Additional obstacles, such as removing gym class and after-school sports from our educational system also contribute to the lack of exercise our children receive. The result is afternoons now spent with TV, video games, and the internet. Also, recognizing that families are busier now more than ever, families eat fewer home-cooked meals and drive-thru dinner and snacking between meals is now commonplace.

While our children are still in the home, we have an opportunity to change, modify or tweak their nutritional and physical-activity habits. Childhood obesity is a disease we can work with our healthcare provider and physical and mental health professionals to manage, conquer and overcome. If not, the well-being of our children remains compromised. Childhood obesity has serious detrimental effects on our children’s physical and mental well-being.

Below are just a few of the alarming physical side effects of childhood obesity:

1. Increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus due to excessive insulin secretion and organ resistance to insulin
2. Menstrual irregularity and infertility
3. Heart attack and stroke due to hypercholesterolemia and hypertension
4. Pulmonary issues centering on asthma and obstructive sleep apnea
Likewise, as critical as these physical side effects of obesity are the possible psychological outcomes, which include:
1. Lowering of self-esteem often reinforced by teasing and bullying at school
2. Depression leading to possible further eating or an exaggerated overcorrection leading to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa

Below are Four Steps to End Childhood Obesity and Promote Happier Healthier Living:

1. Limit your Child’s sedentary activities: Excessive time-utilizing social networks, TV, and computer games are a prime reason for childhood obesity. Consider allowing your child to earn time on the computer, internet or TV. 20 minutes on the internet may equal 30 minutes of physical activity.
2. Encourage physical activity and play: Get the whole family involved and plan family-fun day incorporating activities such as bike rides, nature hikes or a friendly family game of kickball. Also, A Partnership for a Healthier America hosts “Play Streets”. Play Street is a program that routinely closes specific streets in your neighborhood to encourage safe community play.
3. Reduce trips to the drive-thru, restaurants and prepackaged frozen meals: Restaurant meals pack on calories, sodium and fat and can also place a strain on the family budget. “Fast food”, though a less expensive alternative is not only high on calories, it’s low on nutritional value. Plan ahead and consider prepping meals on the weekend or using the crock-pot during the week. If the cost associated with healthier options is a concern, consider starting a vegetable garden or a community garden.
4. Limit healthy snacking and eliminate junk food snacks: Recognizing that today’s busy families are constantly on the move, consider packing a cooler filled with healthier snack options such as yogurt, fruit, and bottled water in the car. Also, make it a family affair; prepare a list of healthier snack options such as graham crackers, granola bars, nuts and peanut butter; let the kids select what they want to see in the cooler.

As I tell clients, strategy, without action is futile. We must commit to taking the first step, and the step after that, and the step after that to reach our desired outcome. Seek accountability partners, enlist friends and family or start a support group. Let’s start by being an example for our children to model. With the health of our children on the line we as parents, community leaders and educators can make a difference.

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3 thoughts on “African American Children and Obesity: 4 Steps to Break the Obesity Cycle

  1. Nice work PAtricia! I am so very proud of you! Great and timely article! I have shared your link with my friends in the field of nutrition and dietetics. I know their patients would benefit from the information.

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