Diet, Exercise Important Even if Scale Does Not Budge

Diet and Exercise
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Being overweight does raise your – and your child’s – risk for negative health issues, however, don’t let the scale be the final judge over your total health. Eating well and exercising is extremely important, even if the scale doesn’t move in the right direction.

In a study of 181 children conducted by a team at the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services, researchers found that, even though classified as obese, children who were physically active, ate healthful foods (more fruits and vegetables, less meat/fat), and limited their screen time (including TV, computer and video games), were considerably more healthy than their sedentary, junk-food eating peers.

The children were described as “metabolically healthy,” meaning their risk was lower for the typical obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

"It's not all about fat, even for kids who meet the definition of obesity," explained Geoff Ball, senior author and associate professor of pediatrics in the U of A's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, and clinical director of Stollery Children's Hospital's Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health. "Lifestyle behaviours - how physically active they are and what they eat - those things have an effect on their health, independent of fatness."

"Obesity is often described as a complex disease with lots of causes and lots of consequences. Not everyone has the same consequences," he adds. "Someone with Type 2 diabetes could have less body fat than somebody who has quite a bit more body fat and doesn't have Type 2 diabetes. There is considerable variability between individuals."

Concluding, Dr. Ball stated that parents should be relieved to hear these findings: "Since most children with obesity find it challenging to lose and maintain weight loss over time, improving metabolic health by being physically active and eating healthfully is an important result in and of itself."

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Following a healthy lifestyle can help you prevent overweight and obesity. Many of these positive lifestyle habits begin during childhood. Thus, parents and families should encourage their children to make healthy choices, such as following a healthy diet and being physically active.

• Don’t put your child on a “diet.” Simply follow a healthy eating plan – meaning proper food choices such as plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat. Limit processed foods, fatty/salty junk foods and candy.

• Focus on portion size – especially those in fast food and other restaurants where portions served often are enough for two or three people. Children's portion sizes should be smaller than those for adults. Cutting back on portion size will help you balance energy IN and energy OUT.

• Be active. Make personal and family time active. Find activities that everyone will enjoy. For example, go for a brisk walk, bike or rollerblade, or train together for a walk or run. As the weather becomes warmer, just playing outdoors is much preferable to sitting inside watching television.

• Reduce screen time. Limit the use of TVs, computers, DVDs, and videogames because they limit time for physical activity. Health experts recommend 2 hours or less a day of screen time that's not work- or homework-related.

• Keep track of your weight, body mass index, and waist circumference. Also, keep track of your children's growth.

Journal Reference:
Geoff DC Ball et al. Predictors of Metabolically Healthy Obesity in Children. Published online before printFebruary 26, 2014, doi:10.2337/dc13-1697Diabetes Care February 26, 2014

Additional Resources:
National Institutes of Health: What Are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity?

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