CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Obesity now affects one in five children and adolescents. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control who also says the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.
It can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure which is why the World Health Organization calls it “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century."
But experts say improving your entire family’s diet - and subsequently your child’s nutrition - is the simplest way doctors say parents can ensure your child stays healthy. Experts say obesity can harm nearly every system in a child’s body: from their heart and lungs, to their bones and muscles; their digestive tract and the hormones that control blood sugar and puberty. Children need to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats. They also need to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Family doctor Dr. Genevieve Brauning with Novant Health says that includes being careful not to let your children drink a lot of their calories.
“The sweetened beverages with added sugars in particular are really dangerous for health long term,” she pointed out. “Diabetic risk, obesity risk and a variety of other chronic conditions.”
That’s why cutting out - or at the very least cutting back on - sweetened drinks is key. A parent herself, Dr. Brauning knows this is particularly challenging for parents. “It’s really important for our kids to be drinking water,” she emphasized. “Just water. Not sweetened water. Not water with juice. Not water with other things. Not special water or energy drinks or sports drinks or juice boxes, just water.”
According to the CDC drinking enough water has been shown to improve cognitive function in children and adolescents. It also helps keep you hydrated and thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Sometimes you just need to drink water!
Dr. Brauning also said this is especially important for parents of young children because it's easier to start with good habits -- then having to break the sugar habit as they get older and into adolescence. “Many of us know, it's hard to break once you get a taste for sugar, it's really hard to go in reverse,” she said. “So our kids have this nice clean palate we can just start with water and not have to get them off. If we start early, then they actually will love water and crave water and be less inclined to reaching for sodas or juices or sugary beverages.”
However, she acknowledged that is harder to do once your children are older -- and said this is where leading by example is really important. If you want your kids to eat better and not drink their calories that you as a parent have to do it, too. She also says you can make changes simply by not buying the processed foods and sugar drinks regularly. “It doesn't have to be an overnight change but bringing less of that into your house,” added Brauning. “And like you said, making that more a treat than a routine. And we just know that everyone gets water for dinner and that's how we do things. And we know we'll enjoy a sweet treat on the weekend at a special occasion.”
Dr. Brauning also realizes it can be hard to control what your child is exposed to at school, birthday parties and other places. That's why she says it's so important for you to be vigilant about keeping processed foods and sugar beverages out of your home. That way you're really showing them it's a treat and not part of the daily routine.
“If we save it for those special occasions which probably are going to come up at least once a week, or a party at school, then we don’t make it part of our normal routine,” she said.