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Parents key in fight against child obesity

Staff writer

Parents have a tremendous influence on the health of their children, including whether children are overweight or obese, Nita Bittle of St. Luke Physician Clinic of Marion says.

The certified physician assistant said obesity puts children at risk for numerous health problems, including diabetes and sleep disorders.

“(Researchers) think this will be the first generation that does not outlive their parents, if we don’t turn that around somehow,” Bittle said.

She attended the University of Kansas 11th annual Conference on the Prevention and Treament of Overweight and Obese Individuals, Sept. 10 through 12. The conference focused on childhood obesity.

Parents can reduce the risk of childhood obesity by encouraging healthy habits and setting good examples, but prevention can begin even earlier. Breastfeeding an infant greatly reduces the chance for childhood obesity later in life, Bittle said.

Educating children about food also can help prevent weight problems. Bittle noted a survey in which children were asked where milk comes, and most responded “the store.” They didn’t consider where stores got milk, she said.

She suggests parents involve their children in cooking meals, which means doing more cooking at home. She also said shopping at farmers markets gives families a chance to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in meals.

Bittle encourages parents to stay active with their children. Doing so helps children associate exercise with fun.

“Kids love to play with their parents,” she said.

Fortunately, small communities provide a safe opportunity for children to play outside, Bittle said.

“I wish more people would take advantage of that,” she added.

Last modified Oct. 14, 2009

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