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By Juleyka Lantigua
Holiday_eating As you encourage your kids to enjoy that second helping of turkey and pernil this holiday season, keep in mind that a childhood obesity epidemic is sweeping across the country. What’s more, Black and Latino kids are at greater risk of being affected.

The reality of overweight and obese children is startling: one in three children ages 6-19 is overweight, a number that has doubled in the last decade, according to the CDC. This translates into 15% of children (6-11) and 15% of teens (12-19). Being overweight is defined by having a body mass index of 25-29.9%, while being obese is defined by having one higher than 30. A normal BMI would fall between 18.5 and 24.9.

"Most excess weight is caused by kids eating too much and exercising too little," explains a 2008 report by the Mayo Clinic, a leading research organization. Among Blacks and Latinos, more than one in six (just over16% respectively) of high school students is overweight, compared to about 12% of white high school students, reports the National Council of La Raza, a major advocacy group.

But Black and Latino children are not alone in suffering from this health problem. Nearly 50 million adults (ages 20-74)—or 27% of the adult population—are obese. Overall, more than 108 million adults, or 61% of the adult population are either obese or overweight, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Genetics play a role so parents who are overweight or obese must take charge of their health first, since their kids are at greater risk of becoming obese. "Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults," confirms the Surgeon General. "This increases to 80% if one or more parent is overweight or obese."

Obesity has serious health and social implications. Health problems include: asthma, type 2 diabetes (over 80% of people with diabetes are overweight or obese, according to the Surgeon General), certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, increased stress on bones and cartilage (which in children leads to poor growth and can cause pain and limit range of motion), sleep apnea, low self-esteem and depression. Social consequences include bullying, discrimination, harassment, isolation and violence.

In tens of thousands of cases the condition is lethal: every year 300,000 deaths are associated with obesity in this country, according to the Surgeon General.

As a parent, you have the greatest impact on your child’s health by the choices you make every day. Start by making your house a sugar-free zone, substitute potato chips for grapes and other fresh fruits, turn TV off during meals, switch from soda to milk or water, take a walk together after meals a couple of times a week. Model the positive behavior for your children and it will become a normal part of their lives at home and when they are on their own and face unhealthy food, exercise and life choices. The most important factor is your commitment to participating and also to changing your own habits.

"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit:"


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