Last week, a mother from Old Forge asked me if I thought video games contribute to childhood obesity in this country. I told her that a recent study suggests that video games can be the problem and the solution!
While there are many causes of childhood obesity including a more sedentary lifestyle, a recent study at the Mayo Clinic has found that children expended significant energy when they play video games that require activity, such as the Nintendo Wii that uses a camera to virtually ìplaceî them in a game to simulate hitting a tennis ball etc. or performing the Dance Dance Revolution or DDR game. The study found that kids expended three times more energy as compared to traditional video games played while sitting or when compared to watching TV while walking on a treadmill. There may be hope for our kids!
Childhood obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat, as determined by skinfold measurements, when the total body weight is more than 25 percent fat in boys and 32 percent in girls. While some define it as a weight/height in excess of 120 percent of the ideal, skinfold measurements have been found to be much more accurate.
Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Moreover, childhood obesity is on the increase as found in a 54 percent increase in body fat measurements among 6-11 year olds since the 1960ís. The American Physical Therapy Association has taken an active roll through its membership to educate, advise and treat children with weight problems:
Obesity increases with age and its prevalence among obese children will continue to be obese with age. Childhood obesity is the leading cause or is associated with: hypertension, Type II diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, lower extremity joint stress and pain, lower self-esteem and other psychological problems.
As with adult obesity, childhood obesity is most often caused by multiple problems including: nutritional, psychological, familial, and physiological.
The risk of becoming obese is very high for those children with two obese parents. Strong genetic factors as well as parenting habits of eating and exercise may play a role.
The average child in this country spends several hours watching TV or playing video games. Childhood obesity is greater among those who exceed this average not only because of low-energy expenditure, but also due to the consumption of high-calorie snacks and drinks while watching TV. Previous generations spent this time engaging in physical activity. Only one-third of grade-school children have daily physical education in school.
Not all children who eat badly and lack physical activity are obese. Studies have shown that there are other causes for obesity, such as heredity.
Weight loss is not the primary role of a good childhood obesity program. The goal is to limit or stop weight gain so the child will eventually grow into their body weight over a period of many months or years. One study suggests that it requires 1 Ω years of body weight maintenance for every 20 percent excess in ideal body weight for a child to ultimately attain ideal body weight.
Increasing physical activity or engaging in a formal exercise program is essential to burn fat, increase caloric expenditure to lose and/or maintain weight. However, studies show that exercise alone is not nearly as effective as when it is combined with proper nutrition/diet and behavior modification. Physical activity is also critical for the health of the child. Blood pressure and lipid profiles improved in children/adolescents who engaged in 50 minutes of aerobic exercise, 3 times per week, even when weight loss was only minimal. If necessary, promote physically active video games such as the DDR or Wii to excite you kids into healthy activity.
Extreme dieting and fasting is not appropriate for children. It is emotionally stressful and physically harmful to the growth and development of a child/adolescent. A balanced diet with moderate caloric and portion restrictions coupled with exercise and counseling is the proper combination.
Behavioral strategies are found to be very successful in children/adolescence. Self-monitoring and keeping a record in a journal of food intake, activity and exercise are helpful. Also, rewards and incentives can be effective. Parent/child counseling programs are most effective.
In conclusion, childhood obesity is a serious epidemic. It is physically and emotionally stressful for the child/adolescent and family. This problem requires a comprehensive team approach including: physician, educator, dietitian, psychologist, and exercise specialist. Lastly, to be successful, it must be a lifetime lifestyle change with regard to diet and exercise, not a 3 to 6 month fad. It must be a long-term program with long-term goals.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.