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Childhood Obesity  
Family changes now can equal lifelong benefits.


healthAs kids, we've all been guilty. Indulging in sweets and the "things that aren't good for you" has always been one of the basic "givens" of being a kid. Soda pop, potato chips, cookies, candies, ice cream and cakes are the high-sugar stuff of childhood dreams! In days long gone, kids were able to naturally burn the excess calories consumed in that "junk food" during outdoor playtime and physical education periods in school. Today, with over 200 channels of television to choose from, video games that are becoming ever more realistic, and a digital communication and information world that keeps children tethered to computer screens in their room, our younger generations have become more inactive. At the same time, convenience food and snack foods filled with carbohydrates, salts, and massive quantities of sugar have proliferated to answer the "must have it now" demands of our busy lifestyle in the new millennium.

The effects of these societal changes are eye-opening. The Surgeon General's office at the United States Department of Health and Human Services states that in 1999, 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight. For adolescents, that figure has nearly tripled over the past two decades. The Mayo Clinic adds that the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one-third of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. This amounts to about 25 million children and adolescents in the United States.

The Surgeon General notes four causes for this increase in weight across our younger population:health

  • Our society has become very sedentary with television, computer, and video games contributing to the inactive lifestyles of children.
  • 43 percent of adolescents watch more than 2 hours of television each day.
  • Overweight conditions in children and adolescents are generally caused by a lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle playing important roles in determining a child's weight.
  • Children, especially girls, become less active as they journey through adolescence.

As a result, the American Obesity Association reports that pediatricians and childhood obesity researchers are reporting more frequent cases of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension in children and adolescents—diseases that were once considered adult conditions. This isn't something that will be left behind with baby teeth and braces. The Surgeon General adds that overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This likelihood increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

If you are concerned about your child's weight, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends consulting with your family doctor or other health care professionals who can help determine a healthy weight for your child and help rule out any health problems that may be responsible for the excess weight. A doctor will likely use a Body Mass Index (BMI) or "growth chart" which considers height and weight in determining a healthy weight range. A child's age and growth patterns will also be taken into consideration.

To help correct an overweight lifestyle, incorporate the family as a support mechanism. Making lifestyle changes is very difficult for one person to achieve and for the best chance of success, changes should be made by all family members. To help correct potential weight problems, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following:

  • Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities (watching television, playing video games, etc.) and limit television time to less than 2 hours each day.
  • Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment.
  • Be physically active. American adults should undertake at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week (60 minutes for children).
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Follow the government's dietary guidelines (which can be found at
  • Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
  • Encourage your child to eat only when hungry and to eat slowly.
  • Don't use food as a reward.
  • Don't withhold food as a punishment.
  • Don't place a child on a restrictive diet.
  • Carefully and slowly reduce the amount of fat and calories in your family's diet.
  • Encourage children to drink water and limit consumption of drinks with added sugars (including soft drinks, sport drinks, and fruit juice drinks).

We all have great hopes and dreams for our children. A healthy body and healthy self-esteem are two of the greatest assets a child can have at the start of this journey through life. Do your part and help guide your family on a new, healthy path for a lifetime with good diet choices and exercise!

As always, consult your family physician with your family's health concerns and before starting any type of diet or exercise plan.

United States Department of Health and Human Services—
The Mayo Clinic—
American Obesity Association—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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