As a pediatrician, my number one goal is to keep children healthy. Yet, over the 30 years I've been in practice, there has been a distressing increase in the number of children and adolescents who are overweight and obese. Today, most physicians are dealing with overweight and obesity in about 30 percent of the children we treat. These staggering numbers have alarmed the pediatric community, and they should spur us as a nation into action.
As the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I was honored to stand beside First Lady Michelle Obama when she launched her "Let's Move!" campaign last month, which aims to overcome obesity in this generation of children. Health promotion is everybody's business. The First Lady's initiative is based on this notion, and her work is bringing together civic leaders, educators, business leaders and health care experts to support families and children.
Right now, unfortunately, we have a serious problem on our hands. Many of our children are not strong and healthy. Overweight toddlers struggle to toddle. Obese children succumb easily to asthma and other respiratory diseases. School-aged youngsters who are overweight and obese have a very high risk of bone and joint problems. Obese teenagers suffer from health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and clinical depression.
So what can parents do? Start at the beginning. Healthy nutrition starts as early as infancy with breast feeding. Once your baby begins eating solid foods, introduce nutritious foods early on and often. It is also important to encourage play time as soon as they start crawling and walking. As your children grow, continue to help them live a healthy active lifestyle. Create a healthy home environment where physical activity is encouraged, nutritious low fat food options are available, and screen time and sugared drinks are limited.
The Academy is doing our part by calling on every pediatrician to calculate body mass index (BMI) for every child over the age of two at every well-child visit. We are encouraging our 60,000 pediatricians to give out official child-friendly "prescriptions" for healthy, active living-good nutrition and physical activity-at every well-child visit. Using these "prescriptions," pediatricians will work with families to set goals for good eating habits and physical activity.
It will take all of us working together to help create healthier communities for our children-communities where children can run and play and feel safe; communities where families have access to fresh foods and where neighborhoods celebrate nutritious eating and find joy in watching children grow up strong and healthy.
The health of our children-and the future of this country-is in our hands. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can turn the tide on childhood obesity.
For more information on First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, click here.