Last week, the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) published an article highlighting the most recent results of a national nutrition survey (NHANES, or the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) between 2011-2012. The results demonstrated, for the first time, a decrease in rates of obesity in young children (ages 2-5). Obesity decreased in these children from 13.9 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2012. Obesity rates were unchanged in older children (6-19 years of age) between 2003 and 2012. Although this is promising news, as this is the first time a decline in obesity has been reported, the fact remains that 17 percent of older children and 35 percent of adults are obese.
Children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults and are more likely to develop obesity-related complications, which include hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Thus, continuing to work to treat and prevent pediatric obesity is important.
The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) has put together recommendations for a healthy diet, called “Choose My Plate.”
- Focus on fruits. Experiment with new fruits in the grocery store. Try pre-cut, pre-packaged fruits for convenience. Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter. Use fruits canned in 100 percent fruit juice or water instead of syrup.
- Vary your veggies. Buy fresh veggies when in season. Use frozen vegetables as a quick addition to dinner. Try pre-washed bags of salad or baby carrots.
- Make at least half your grains whole. Try whole grain pasta or brown rice. Substitute whole wheat flour for white flour (even just half) when cooking.
- Go lean with protein. Look for steaks without lots of marbling (like round steak, or sirloin). Try lean pork products such as pork tenderloin. Use extra lean ground beef. Trim away visible fat from proteins. Add fish twice a week to your diet, and try beans, peas, or soy products as a main dish.
- Get your calcium-rich foods. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk. Try low-fat yogurt with fruit for a snack. Use low-fat dairy items (sour cream, cream cheese, and cottage cheese).
In addition to choosing healthy foods, exercise is important. Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
While the survey data are promising, we need to continue to work to decrease childhood obesity by exercising and eating a healthy diet. For more information, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
Jillian Sullivan, MD MSCS, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at the The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center.