Childhood obesity is a serious problem across the nation. According to the CDC, one in five children are affected. Research conducted by the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, indicates that approximately 29 percent of children in Maryland are overweight and obese, and approximately 35 percent of Maryland’s Black children are overweight or obese. Excess weight and obesity put children at high risk of futures that are marred by chronic disease and life-threatening health emergencies, so it is important to address weight issues now – before children find themselves in crisis.

There are several factors that can contribute to obesity among children. Family history, psychological issues and lifestyle all play a role, but time and time again, experts have concluded that the main cause of childhood obesity is a combination of eating too much and exercising too little.

Children are eating more “convenience foods” than ever. These include restaurant take-out, frozen dinners, salty snacks, canned pastas, sugary drinks and other overprocessed, fat-filled foods that are easy to access and hard to avoid. Children are also leading more sedentary lifestyles by spending more time indoors in front of TV, computer, tablet and smartphone screens. These kids are ingesting more than the recommended calories per day and not being active enough to burn up all those calories. When all of this is combined with other physical, emotional and environmental factors, it contributes to weight gain and can spiral out of control, if action is not taken.

We all understand the importance of checking up on things to see where we stand. We create a budget to manage our finances. We inventory our pantry to create a shopping list. We check in with our doctor to learn what’s going on with our health. It’s equally important to examine what children are eating and how active they are being on a day-to-day basis. It could be as simple as starting a list to record everything a child eats and how many hours of exercise they get over the course of a day or two. This information can then be compared to what pediatricians recommend. Visit HealthyChildren.org to see some of these recommendations, and share your findings with your child’s doctor to get advice.

Some families may immediately notice that a child’s diet doesn’t seem healthy, but may not know where to start to change it. Amerigroup Maryland recommends several health and wellness resources that can help provide direction, including a site called Nourish Interactive that can be accessed at http://www.nourishinteractive.com/healthy-living/amerigroup. This site can help children and families learn how to make healthy changes and have fun while doing it.

It’s also understandable that it takes time, effort and sometimes money to make healthy changes. It may require extra time to pre-plan shopping lists and prepare healthy meals and snacks, so they are available on a grab-and-go basis. It may also take money to access nutritious, fresh foods. This can be a challenge, especially during the ongoing economic crisis. Amerigroup, however, has made its Community Resource Link available to the public for help. Individuals can visit the Community Resource Link website, enter their zip code, and find access to resources that offer emergency food, food pantries, food delivery, meal services and nutrition education. The site also offers thousands of other resources to help overcome barriers to achieving better health and lives, so take a moment to visit https://amerigroup.findhelp.com/.

Every child should have an equal opportunity to have a healthy life and future, and we should not allow excess weight and obesity to take that away from our children. It is never too early, or too late, to know where your child stands with their weight, diet, activity levels and health, so you can introduce healthy changes if necessary. Also, it is not a challenge that families have to take on alone. Families are not expected to be healthcare experts, dieticians, nutritionists or life coaches. Your doctor can help with that, and if you can’t start there, consider the help offered by Amerigroup at www.myamerigroup.com/md/home.html.

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