Experts are predicting for the first time in American history that this generation of young people will have a shorter lifespan than their parents, all because of expected health problems later in life related to weight. “Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in America,” said Dr. Anatole Karpovs, pediatrician at the Children’s Clinic of SWLA. “The problem is twofold—poor eating habits and lack of exercise.”

Over the past 20 years, the number of extremely overweight children has doubled. About 15 percent of children in the United States today are overweight, which puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma, orthopedic problems, hypertension, depression and other health problems, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The cause of this rise in childhood obesity is simple,” said Karpovs. “Children today are eating too many high-calorie, low-nutrition ‘fast foods’ like potato chips and French fries and drinking too many sugar drinks like regular soda, Kool-aid, and even Gatorade. Even more to blame is the lack of kids’ physical activity. The high-tech entertainment of TV, computers, and video games has replaced kids’ desire for physical outdoor activities.”

Karpovs said parents and communities can start making changes now to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity. “Teaching the importance of nutrition and daily physical education should be part of every school day grades K-12. Soda and candy machines in the schools should be replaced with healthy snack alternatives.” he said. “Communities can enable more active lifestyles for children and families by creating more safe recreational facilities, bike paths, and sidewalks.”

“Parents need to get active with their kids and support outdoor activities,” recommends Karpovs. He suggests these ways parents can take an active role in creating a healthy lifestyle for their children to avoid the risks of obesity:

  • Limit the time your child watches TV and video games to less than 2 hours per day.
  • Sit down together as a family for dinner and no eating while watching TV.
  • Do not eat at fast food restaurants more than once per week
  • Buy more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned). Let your child choose them at the store.
  • Buy fewer soft drinks and high calorie snacks like chips and cookies and keep healthy snack foods on hand.
  • Encourage involvement in activities that can be enjoyed into adulthood (walking, running, swimming, basketball, tennis, golf, dancing, and bicycle riding)
  • Be active together as a family. Assign active chores like washing the car or vacuuming. Plan active outings or take a brisk walk together in the evenings.

“A few simple, positive dietary changes and the initiation of any regular physical activity can establish healthy habits in children that will last a lifetime,” said Karpovs.