Joel Steelman, M.D.One of my daughter’s favorite things to do is jumping in inflatable bounce houses. She also insists that either Mommy or Daddy play with her in the bounce houses. There’s a business near our house that has multiple rooms full of all kinds of bounce houses. While bouncing and/or sliding for nearly 2 hours of sweaty, laughing fun with my daughter, I started thinking about the importance of exercise and activity in preventing obesity in children.

Our pediatric endocrinology group at Cook Children’s Medical Center sees increasing numbers of children referred for obesity or problems strongly linked to obesity such as type 2 diabetes or cholesterol problems. The cornerstone of obesity management is lifestyle management which boils down to – eat better and exercise. One of the key things that needs to be done to prevent or treat obesity is increasing daily moderate-level activity in children. I’ve quickly realized that bounce houses can definitely give you moderate-level activity.

It’s no surprise that obesity is increasing in adults as well as children. This illustration from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows a frightening change in obesity trends in adults from 1985-2007. Just as there has been a march towards higher adult obesity, there has been the same trend in children and teens as shown below from the CDC website. The nation has roughly tripled in the percentage of obese children.

Obesity Information

Both of US and state governments have programs to fight obesity in children. The state of Texas has a program called Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Program (NPAOP). Endocrinology has also been heavily involved with the Power of Prevention program set up by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist. Goals set by NPAOP are similar to goals set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and these goals include things such as the following:

  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Decreased consumption of energy dense foods
  • Decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
  • Decreased TV or computer time

Obesity in children is a bit more difficult to determine than in adults due to factors of age, gender, and growth. The definition involves looking at body mass index (BMI) which is a combination of weight and height. The body mass index can be examined in much the same way that a growth chart in a child is examined to determine if a child is obese or overweight.

Here’s a  BMI calculator  to check your child’s weight to see if he or she is obese or overweight.

Here are some things that you can do have concerns about your child’s weight.

  • Involvement in an age-appropriate sport
  • Decrease TV or computer time and add a more active activity
  • Be active with your child – bounce houses definitely fit the bill
  • Cook meals at home

I’m a strong believer in active healthy lifestyle starting early. Things that I try to do as a family include a lot of the things listed above such as cooking meals at home (hard working full-time), limiting TV time, and active outside play time, and participation in activity with my daughter. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a good fact sheet on what families can do at home for promoting an active lifestyle.