Today’s children are walking less, snacking more, and gaining excessive amounts of weight.  First Lady Michelle Obama continues to tackle childhood obesity through her “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage kids to exercise more and make healthier food choices.

Obesity has more than doubled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):  “The percentage of U.S. children aged 6-11 years who were obese increased from 7% in 1980, to nearly 18% in 2012.  Adolescents aged 12-19 who were obese in the same period grew from 5% to 21%.  In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.”

Overweight is defined as having excess body weight (from fat, muscle, bone, and water) in relation to height, while obesity means having excess body fat.  Both result from a “caloric imbalance of too few calories expended for the number of calories consumed.  Various genetic, behavior and environmental factors affect weight,” says the CDC.

Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social problems including low self-esteem are additional growing problems for overweight youths.

The solution, according to Dr. Patrick Dolan, pediatrician, Woodridge Clinic, includes healthy lifestyle habits, dietary and physical behavior changes, and support.  Dolan says, “I advise parents to just make one change at a time.  For example, limit the empty calories in soda, and consume more water.  Make three-fourths of a child’s plate colorful.  Meat, oil, and white rice aren’t colorful, but vegetables are.”  He suggests, “Replace less healthy meals with fun ones such as ‘lettuce wrap night’ instead of ‘taco night.’  Kids will eat more nutritious foods when the family prepares them together, too.”