On February 11th, the NY Times reported on a National Institutes of Health study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that tracked nearly 5,000 American Indian children in Arizona for 24 years, showing that overweight children are “more than twice as likely to die early from natural causes, such as alcoholic liver disease, cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer, and diabetes as children whose weight put them in the lowest quarter of the population.”
The researches were quoted as saying that in addition to health problems, overweight kids were twice as likely to die before the age of 55 of “self-inflicted injury.” Further, although “youngsters with…pre-diabetes were at almost double the risk of dying before 55, and those with high blood pressure were at some increased risk,” it was obesity that was “most closely associated with an early death.”
As reported in one of my earlier blog posts, the number of overweight kids has tripled since 1980 with about 17% of our kids considered obese. There are serious health consequences down the road for these children. WebMD reported on 2/10/10 that “death rates from natural causes among children in the highest group of glucose intolerance (a risk factor for developing diabetes) were 73% higher than among the children in the lowest group of glucose intolerance.” While “no substantial links were found between cholesterol levels and premature deaths,” the study authors “did find that high blood pressure in childhood raised the risk of premature death from natural causes by about 1.5 times.”
Our kids are engaged in too many activities that involve sitting and, often, eating, as well as lack of control on portion size. We, as parents, must instill good food habits in our kids at the earliest ages, and I urge all of us to pay close attention to what our preschool kids are eating. If they’re in preschool, ask what’s served for snacks and lunch. Kids love hotdogs and cheese, but they are not healthy options. Once our kids get to elementary school and lunches are available in the cafeteria, our influence wanes even more. Depending on the school district, student lunches can be very high in fat and sodium, and most schools have multiple candy and soda machines throughout the building, encouraging kids to snack on junk.
If it is to be, it’s up to us to actively monitor both our kids’ food intake (quantity as well as quality) and activity levels. Make it a goal that your kids go outside daily to play. Go to the gym and take them with you. Go for family walks, play ball outdoors. We have beautiful weather here in California, so be sure to take advantage of it as often as you can and set that good example for your kids as if their lives depended on it. According to the studies above, they do.