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How to break the cycle of childhood obesity

Did you know that one in three American children are overweight or obese? According to the American Heart Association, this is nearly triple the rate in 1963. Childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking, because of the higher risk of overweight children developing chronic diseases that can shorten their life and affect the quality of their lives. We talked with Dr. Will Aguila, author of Why I Don’t Lose Weight: Conquering the Cycle of Obesity, about the obesity epidemic in our kids and how parents can empower their children to eat right and maintain a healthy weight.

Obese child

Overweight children face emotional and physical challenges

In addition to having a higher risk of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer at a young age, overweight children also suffer emotionally. Experts say that obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Dr. Aguila is no stranger to the negative impact excess weight can have on a person’s life. He battled obesity, gaining nearly 100 pounds during medical school. However, when he realized he was using food as a coping mechanism for stress (and also caught a glimpse of his reflection), he adjusted his lifestyle one change at a time, lost the weight and has kept it off. Wanting to teach children and adults how to break the cycle of obesity, he offers practical advice to finally beat the battle of the bulge.

Americans are using food as stress relief

Funny how we can think eating a half-gallon of ice cream is the answer to taming stress. It may taste so good, and be filling and comforting at the time, but ultimately it only causes us more stress because we feel physically rotten and then beat ourselves up for overeating. This is the cycle of obesity that our society has perpetuated. “Our society has developed a longstanding relationship with food — we use food for comfort, for celebrating, even for grieving,” explains Dr. Aguila. “With the widespread availability of cheap and fast foods in great quantities, we have created the opportunity to ‘medicate’ ourselves with certain foods.”

Diet and exercise seem easy — why are we blowing it?

Maintaining a healthy weight seems so logical — eat healthy and exercise regularly — but 33 percent of children and 66 percent of adults in America are struggling with their weight. What gives? “Stress eating! Our daily lives are filled with stress and there is often not enough time in the day to do the things that we want to do,” says Dr. Aguila. “So we sacrifice healthy eating and exercise. We put these ideas in the ‘should do’ but not in the ‘have to do’ categories.” So we turn to salty fries, sugary desserts and other foods that not only require little thought or time for preparation, but they comfort our feelings of stress and are easier than cooking or going to the gym. When parents do this, they teach their children that this is an OK lifestyle, which normalizes using food to cope with stress.

Up next: 6 things parents can do to keep their children from being overweight >>

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