Could Your Healthy-Weight Child Be at Risk for Obesity?

Pediatric Care in Florida

Featured Expert:

A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital shows that when it comes to counseling for weight management, pediatricians and parents may be neglecting healthy-weight kids.

The study, led by Raquel G. Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, medical director of the hospital’s Healthy Weight Initiative, was published recently in the journal Childhood Obesity and found that fewer healthy weight kids are engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors, possibly putting their future health at risk.

The children studied were 6 to 7 years old and selected from a national dataset called the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. The data collected in 1999 and 2010 showed that overweight children are engaging in healthy behaviors more often than they did a decade ago, while healthy-weight children are practicing fewer healthy behaviors.

“This is an unexpected finding that suggests that we may not be setting up the next generation of healthy weight kids to remain at a healthy weight if we are not encouraging healthy behaviors during medical encounters,” Hernandez says. “This study shows that we should be proactive in keeping those kids who are healthy weight that way for as long as possible.”

Additionally, the study found Latino children who were at a healthy weight had the greatest decline in healthy lifestyle behaviors. The findings indicate that by not encouraging healthy behaviors, there may be missed opportunities to keep this particular group of children at a healthy weight.

“It is especially concerning to learn from this research that Latino children may be at an increased risk for being overweight and obese in the future,” Hernandez adds. “We hope to also study whether the decline in healthy lifestyle behaviors can be attributed to language issues, access to health care or other social determinants.”

Hernandez adds that the study is a modest step in understanding how to improve healthy lifestyle counseling with children and their families. Researchers hope these findings will help pediatricians address the growing obesity epidemic by customizing counseling in order to assist children in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight.

Expert Tips on Keeping Your Healthy-Weight Kids Healthy

  • Encourage your children to follow the 9-5-2-1-0 (or almost none) lifestyle:
    • Get nine hours of sleep every night.
    • Eat five fruits or vegetable servings per day.
    • Engage in two or fewer hours of screen time per day.
    • Get in at least one hour of physical activity each day.
    • Drink almost no sugary beverages per day.
  • Have dinner as a family at least five days per week.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced breakfast each morning, which should include a lean protein, a serving of fruit or vegetables and a serving of fiber such as fat-free yogurt (with fruit). Avoid simple sugars like pastries, cereals or too much juice. 
  • Talk to your pediatrician about any lifestyle or weight-related concerns. 

This study was funded by the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation Institutional Research Grants Program. Additional authors include Janelle T. Garcia, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, and Ernest K. Amankwah, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

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