Obesity has become a serious medical condition affecting children, adolescents and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years and, today, nearly one in three children in the United States are overweight or obese.

The ratio of weight to height is called body mass index. This is a screening tool that is used to see if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Since children are still growing, when determining their BMI, age and gender must be taken into consideration. Thus, growth charts are helpful in calculating child and adolescent BMI. Children and adolescents with a BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile are considered to be at a healthy weight. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 94th percentile are considered to be overweight, and those with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese.

Though genetics and hormonal disorders can contribute to childhood obesity, most of the time obesity is caused by poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Times have changed. Children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time inside engaged in sedentary activities. According to the CDC, on average, children 8 to 18 years old are spending 7.5 hours a day on the computer, cell phone, playing video games, watching TV or DVDs. Eighty-three percent of children 6 months to less than 6 years of age watch TV or videos about two hours a day.

Today, dual-income families are busier than ever, eating fewer home-cooked meals and resorting to dining out. As a result, we are consuming larger portions and often more calories than we need. Children also are snacking more in between meals, and, unfortunately, these snacks are not always nutritious.

Children who are overweight or obese can suffer immediate as well as long-term health effects. They are often teased or bullied, suffer from low self-esteem or depression and may have behavior and learning problems. They may develop asthma or breathing problems, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems and are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

So what can we do about this national obesity epidemic? 

• Limit convenience foods, such as cookies, chips and fast food. They are high in sugar, sodium and fat.

• Offer healthy meals and snacks, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, lowfat dairy products, whole grain breads and cereals and lean sources of protein.

• Control portion sizes.

• Quench thirst with water instead of sports drinks, juice or soda.

• Involve your children in grocery shopping, meal planning and meal preparation. Eat together as a family and discourage your child from eating in front of a TV, computer or electronic devise.

• Use stickers as a reward instead of sweets.

• Cut back on dining out or order healthy options.

• Encourage your children to be active. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Get them involved in team sports and make a family commitment to limit TV, video games and computer time to fewer than two hours a day.

• Get active as a family. Walk or bike together in the evenings, go on a nature hike, play catch or basketball, go bowling, challenge them to a jump rope competition or take your children swimming. Make it fun.

If we eat right and are physically active, we can help children develop healthy habits. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, please talk to his or her health care provider.

Brandon Price is a family medicine physician at CHI St. Alexius Health Mandan Medical Plaza. Price graduated from Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency in family medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn.