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September, Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Dr. DeLoa

Prevention of childhood obesity can start long before most of us realize: it is, of course, important for all of us to follow consistent healthy dietary habits (eating lots of vegetables and whole grains daily, as well as some fruit and lean proteins, limiting starches, and if possible, avoiding sweets), but moms-to-be can make an even more positive impact by limiting weight-gain during pregnancy. This can be accomplished by maintaining a healthy diet and getting consistent gentle exercise like walking and stretching and yoga specifically geared towards expectant moms. Most women should ideally gain 15 lbs or less during the course of their pregnancy, and some who are overweight or obese, may even benefit from losing weight during the child-bearing period. Make sure to have regular follow-ups with your physician throughout your gestation, so your weight and the size of your baby can be followed and the health of both mom and baby assured. This helps to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, which may lead to future increased risk of diabetes to mom and baby.

After birth, both mom and baby can benefit from the amazing advantages breast-feeding offers: besides essential nutrients, breast milk is packed with disease fighting substances that shield the baby from illness during the first 6 months of life. It also reduces the likelihood of future allergies in the child, and may directly impact future obesity risk by reinforcing healthier eating patterns and better pace of weight gain during the infant period. Breast feeding also has a healthy impact on hormone regulation that can minimize risk of obesity in later years.

Breast feeding can help reduce stress levels and the risk of postpartum depression in mom. It may reduce the risk of breast cancer, and it helps to get rid of post-baby weight-gain, as it takes approximately 500 calories daily to produce the milk equivalent to sustain a growing child. For all of these reasons, breast-feed for at least 6 months (and ideally for a year or more) is recommended. This can give an astounding advantage to the future generation.

Of course not every mom has the luxury of being able to breast-feed their child, and for these moms formula is the next best option. Delaying the introduction of solids until baby is at least 6 months old is the next excellent step you can take to reduce your child’s future obesity risk, as well as risk of food allergies. Traditionally, parents started with rice cereal, but nowadays young parents frequently start with the introduction of a vegetable such as sweet potatoes, carrots, avocados, or a fruit like bananas, pears, peaches, etc. It is very important to only introduce one item at a time, and to try that exclusively for at least 4 days so you can monitor for reactions before introducing any other new foods.

From the toddler years through the teens, striving to follow this numeric formula is sure to help keep the whole family out of trouble: 7-5-2-1-0

7- Breakfast 7 days a week. Numerous studies have shown that eating breakfast daily alone will reduce obesity risk by positively impacting metabolism as well as dietary choices for the rest of the day.

5 – 5 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. While kids typically love fruit, fruit still has a lot of sugar, so let’s all get more adventurous about vegetables and try to incorporate them more throughout our day. Send your kids to school with bags of fresh cut up vegetables like celery, baby carrots, bell-peppers strips, radishes, cucumbers, and grape/ cherry tomatoes, which they could dip in hummus, low-fat dressing, or home-made dressing of Greek yogurt and herbs and spices.  Get creative, and involve the kids: they are more likely to eat the snacks they packed theselves rather than spending their money on unhealthy options.

2 – no more than 2 hours of screen time daily after school and homework.

1 – at least 1 hour of physical activity EVERY DAY. Since our lives involve so much sitting with our commute, computers, TV watching/ videos games, etc., it is essential that we move and break a sweat every single day. Ideally, we should think of exercise as an essential part of our daily regimen – like brushing our teeth – that simply must be done on a daily basis. The benefits of exercise are numerous: there is not a single medication or super food that can compete with the multitude of amazing health effects regular exercise offers. Exercise has hardly any negative side-effects if done correctly, other than sweating and some wear and tear on the joints. This will happen one way or another, but you can choose if your pain is from some empowering exercise rather than from de-conditioning or injury from being inactive.

And finally,

0 – ZERO sugary drinks. We have become accustomed to consuming sodas and sugary “juices”, but these have made a most devastating impact on our overall health as a society. If water is too “boring”, try to liven it up by infusing it with some fruit, cucumbers, citrus, herbs. Fruit may be pureed and sweetened with a little bit of honey/ maple juice or agave nectar. Hot or ice-tea is ideal.

“Easier said than done,” you may say. However, if you try to prepare healthy snacks and meals for the day (perhaps even the night before), and certainly involve your children and the entire family, you’ll be much more likely to make good choices throughout the day, which in turn will lead to feeling healthier and doing better at school and in life’s other activities.

Pursuing good health and beneficial habits is a lifetime journey and learning process, so try to enjoy it along the way. There will be ups and downs, but keep your focus ahead, and just try to make good choices “that day”. Before you know it, days will turn into weeks and months, and you will have taught yourself and your family a more empowering lifestyle.

Dr. DeLoa

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