Approximately 17 percent of American children aged 2-19 are fighting obesity, with greater numbers of obese children in minority groups. When my own son was still in middle school, I remember reading a news story discussing the concern among pediatricians regarding obesity and visceral fat in youngsters. This type of deep gut fat is stored around the internal organs and is often a forerunner to adult diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Picturing my own classroom, I could count four out of 23 students who had what you might call “a little pot belly.” Those four students were in danger of developing heart disease from high cholesterol and high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or asthma. Socially, they could become targets for teasing, especially as middle school students.
Of course, physicians use a much more thorough evaluation, including the body mass index (BMI) to determine obesity in children and adolescents. The BMI number is calculated from correlations between a child's weight and height. BMI is a reliable and inexpensive indicator of body fat to determine if a child is carrying extra weight. Generally, if a child’s BMI is at or above the 95th percentile, he or she is considered obese. It is important to note that while BMI numbers are used to screen for weight problems, doctors often issue other appropriate health screenings, including measurement of skin fold thickness, evaluations of eating and exercise habits, and family history.
How can we empower ourselves and our children to be healthy for life? When I want to improve something in my classroom, I keep it uncomplicated and positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers some simple, common sense advice for all of us, not just those struggling with obesity. First, increase daily physical activity so that your child gets about an hour of activity a day. Next, you and your child can eat more fruits and vegetables. A behavioral study by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that fewer family dinners means a lower consumption of fruits and vegetables and a higher intake of fried foods and soda.