JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

September is national Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and organizations around the country are planning educational events for children and families to encourage kids to get moving and stay healthy.

Jim Clark, licensed social worker and CEO of Daniel, Florida’s oldest child-service agency, tells us about obesity trends in children and how parents can help kids make better food choices to stay healthy.

In June, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease. This decision has really brought this problem to the forefront and brought to light just how much more common it has become, especially among children.

Clark says, "Diagnosing obesity usually starts with charting a person’s BMI, or body mass index which is basically a person’s weight in relation to their height. Children’s BMI’s are usually charted by their pediatricians."

According to Clark generally if a child’s BMI is between the 5th and 85th percentile for their age they are considered a normal, healthy weight; those that are in the 85th to 94th percentile are considered overweight; and those in the 95th percentile and higher are considered obese. He says 1 in 3 kids are obese or overweight.

"As for how big a problem it is," Clark says, "it’s staggering. According to the federal government’s Task Force for Child Obesity, over the past three decades obesity rates have tripled. Now 1 in 3 kids in America are considered to be obese or overweight. In the African American and Hispanic population that 33 percent jumps to about 40 percent."

Clark says the issues children could face as a result of obesity are quite serious.

"Unless we stop the trend of childhood obesity experts predict 1/3 of children born in the year 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives," Clark says.

Clark says other potential hazards include:

Heart disease

  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Social discrimination or self-esteem issues


Clark says here are some ways parents can help:

1. Watch portion size

If you go back thirty years ago the portions were much smaller. And if you’ve ever traveled to foreign countries you’ll find much smaller portions there as well. There is no need to super-size at fast-food restaurants or at home.

2. Control snacking

As for snacking, again, thirty years ago, snacking between meals was an occasional or perhaps once per day treat. Now kids average three snacks per day, with one in five school-age children having six snacks each day. That could easily add 200 calories or more to your children’s diets. Snacking can be very good for your child throughout the day to keep his/her blood sugar at a constant, but only if meals are smaller and you are giving your child good choices for snacks. Fresh fruit, small portions of nuts or cheese and crackers are good choices.

3. Drink water

Sugary soft drinks have zero nutritional value for your children. They are full of calories, many have caffeine which isn’t the best idea and they do damage to teeth. That doesn't mean your child should never have a soda. However, the older your child is when he/she discovers it as an occasional treat the better. It should be just that, a treat at birthday parties or special occasions.

Also watch out for juices. Juices and sport drinks have a tremendous amount of sugar and calories. Limit your child’s intake of juices or simply blend a half cup of juice to a half cup of water.

4. Exercise and limit screen time