Four in 10 Georgians believe that one of the leading childhood health issues in the state is childhood obesity, according to a new survey from Georgia Children’s Health Alliance (GCHA).

While most people believe childhood obesity is a serious problem, the statistics remain high, putting record numbers of obese children at risk for debilitating health problems.

Once a disease of older adults, type 2 diabetes is one of the chronic illnesses that is increasingly being diagnosed in overweight children and adolescents. Additionally, childhood diagnoses of high blood pressure, sleep apnea and asthma have soared over the past 10 years.

These health risks can be minimized with changes in lifestyle. For families absorbed in school, work and extracurricular activities, the idea of a major lifestyle change can be overwhelming, but a simple reevaluation of exercise and eating habits can go a long way in getting the whole family on the road to a healthy future.

Encouraging children to consume healthy foods and sustain an active lifestyle does not have to become a household power-struggle. The key for parents in setting the proper structure is to follow the three “P’s.” Planning, preparing and providing healthy meals and snacks for the family will ensure the right foods are being consumed. For instance:

  • Plan the times you will have snacks at home
  • Plan the foods you will provide as snacks
  • Think in colors – add fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • Think in textures – smooth, crunchy or chewy
  • Think finger food sizes
  • Think of adding low-fat milk or water to drink

Understanding what to eat is only half the battle.  Kids often don’t know when they’ve had enough. Snacking in front of the television or rushing through a meal to get back to their favorite video game are distractions that keep kids from listening to their bodies.

Teaching children to listen to their personalized hunger/fullness scale, the body’s signals that ask for nourishment, will help them decide how hungry they are before a meal and how full they are during the meal. Once they can stay in tune with these indicators, children will know when to stop eating.

In addition to eating healthy, physical activity needs to be addressed, especially during the busy holiday season and cold winter months. Fewer organized sports during the winter means less opportunity for structured exercise. For children, this means the most exercise they’ll be engaged in is typing on the computer or speeding through channels on TV. With a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine finding a link between hypertension and watching television, it has become abundantly clear that sedentary behaviors could lead to major problems.

While staying active is a key ingredient to ensuring a healthy future for children, there is at least one sedentary activity that should remain a regular part of the day – sleep.  Research from the University of Michigan shows that every additional hour per night a third-grader spends sleeping reduces the child’s risk of being obese by 40 percent. The results give parents one more reason to impose bed times and restrict caffeine in the evening.

Once parents can teach their children the benefits of making healthy lifestyle choices in terms of nutrition and physical activity, the whole family can reap the benefits.

Cristina Caro is a program coordinator for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which focuses on promoting healthful habits in children and their families. Visit or to find out how your children can stay healthy.