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Health Risk: Childhood Obesity

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Health Risk: Childhood Obesity

Simple swaps parents can make to keep their children at a healthy weight and free from serious health problems


STONY BROOK, NY, OCTOBER 1, 2014 – Today, one in three children can be classified as overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for serious health problems. Rosa Cataldo, DO, MPH, Director of the Healthy Weight & Wellness Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, discusses what parents can do now to keep their child at a healthy weight and get them on the road to a healthy life.

Dr. Cataldo

“Childhood obesity is a serious — and growing — problem in the United States, so parents should be concerned about their child’s weight” says Dr. Cataldo. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in young adults in the past 30 years.

“We are not talking about a few extra pounds, but rather a condition that can have a negative effect on a child’s overall health,” says Dr. Cataldo. Effects, she says, that could include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, joint pain and sleep apnea. In addition to the physical effects, childhood obesity is related to a number of emotional/psychological effects, such as stigmatization, poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety. “And when obese children grow up to be obese adults, the consequences escalate. In addition to all the effects experienced in childhood, obese adults are at risk for heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, infertility, osteoarthritis and other issues.”

Ideally, children should develop healthy lifestyle habits early that include healthy eating and daily physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight as they grow. However, children who are already overweight or obese may need additional guidance to get them back on a healthy track.

Dr. Cataldo says one simple way to help your kids make those health choices is swapping out some nutritionally questionable items out of your child’s diet with some healthier choices.

  • Juice boxes, sports drinks and flavored-water style beverages are loaded with sugar. Dr. Cataldo says making the switch to water or low-fat milk could save your child 250 calories per day!
  • Granola bars and bar-style snacks are a great on-the-go treat and easy to throw in your child’s lunch-box, but they are loaded with unnecessary calories and sugar! Dr. Cataldo says try swapping out this snack for a homemade trail mix. Your kids will have fun making this nut, seed, raisin mixture and it will help satisfy their crunchy-sweet craving.
  • A bag of chips is a quick filler for any lunch or a snack on-the-go, but one that is loaded with salt, fat and calories, and are usually processed and fried. Swap out a bag of chips for a baggie of cut up vegetable sticks. This healthier option will give your kids that crunch they are looking for, and you can add hummus or a low-calorie dressing for dipping. You can also try kale chips or apple chips — they are a healthier option containing less calories and less salt that aren’t fried or processed. 
  • Who doesn’t love a cookie? But a bag of cookies as a lunchtime snack is loaded with sugar, fat and calories. Parents can modify baked goods by making them at home, omitting some of the sugar or substituting ingredients to cut down on calories and fat. Or a 100-calorie snack pack every once in a while can satisfy your child’s sweet tooth. Dr. Cataldo says, make treats, a treat – don’t allow your children to have them every day or with every meal, they will lose their luster and become an unhealthy habit. 
  • Lunchables and processed lunch meats are a quick and easy way to make your child’s lunch, but are often full of salt and fat. Try making your own roll-ups with turkey or chicken in a wrap or flatbread and instead of fatty mayonnaise, try hummus or mustard as a spread.
  • Fruit snacks come in fun shapes and colors that make kids go gaga over them, but they are loaded with sugar and do not contain any fruit. A better, healthier idea is to give your child a piece of fruit, an all-natural fruit leather or make fruit kabobs with cut up fruit, which can help with the fun factor.

These simple swaps might help, but children who are already overweight or obese may need additional guidance to get them back on a healthy track. “Stony Brook Children’s developed the Health Weight & Wellness Center,” says Dr. Cataldo. “It offers a medically supervised, evidence-based program designed to help children and teens lose weight safely while preparing them to successfully maintain a healthy weight as adults.”

The Healthy Weight & Wellness Center requires a physician referral. For more information, call (631) 444-2730 or (631) 444-KIDS or go to




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