Dr. Jeffery Urban
Dr. Jeffery Urban

A new school year is the perfect time to start fresh — when it comes to academics, and to children’s health.
So it’s perhaps no coincidence that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a time to reflect on this pervasive problem and talk about lasting solutions. Whether or not you’re the parent of an obese child, this matters. Our kids are our future, and their health is critical to making that future bright.
The statistics are sobering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of U.S. children are obese — that’s nearly 1 in 5. Obese children face a variety of health and social challenges, and also are more likely to become obese adults, which can lead to lifelong health problems.
This is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution. Diet and physical activity are the most well-known factors, but fixing them isn’t easy. We also need to consider factors such as sleep — not getting enough shut-eye can contribute to kids (and adults) being overweight or obese. Limiting screen time also is important — time in front of a TV or computer is time not spent being active.
So where can we start when it comes to good eating habits? Kids need plenty of fresh fruits and veggies to maintain an optimal weight and good nutrition. Think more whole grains and fewer refined grains, opting for wheat bread and pasta instead of their white counterparts, for example. Beware of hidden sugars, and be especially wary of sweet beverages — sodas and even seemingly healthy juices can be loaded with sugar. Water is usually your best choice when it comes to hydration, and whole fruit with its fiber is a more nutritious choice than a sugary juice.
We also know that getting moving is a key piece of the puzzle. Kids should get at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity, which can include heart-pumping play. This doesn’t have to occur all at once — a 15-minute game of tag at recess, a bit of time spent shooting hoops in the driveway and a 20-minute walk after supper can help kids meet those physical activity benchmarks. Team sports are also a great way to encourage physical activity while imparting the importance of teamwork and working toward a goal.
Implementing these changes can seem onerous, but it doesn’t have to be — in fact, you can even make it fun. Take that after-supper walk as a family or make a game out of trying a new fruit or vegetable for a healthy snack. Cook healthy meals together and savor some quality family time at the table — not in front of the television. It’ll be good for your kids, and it’ll be good for you, too.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem, but we can all take steps to role model good behaviors and help the children we love lead healthier lives. There’s no better time to start than now.
Dr. Jeffrey Urban specializes in pediatrics and primary care at Bellin Health Marinette. His office can be reached at 715-735-5225.