Parents do all kinds of things for their kids to help them thrive as adults. We often put braces on their teeth, teach them good manners and study habits, and stick money in a college fund for them.
Unfortunately, many parents don't seem to be able to help their kids reach adulthood at a healthy weight. The percentage of kids who are obese has roughly tripled in the past three decades. Now more than 1 out of 3 kids and teens is overweight or obese. When they arrive in adulthood - that not-so-faraway phase in their lives - these kids are more likely to feel the impact of heart disease, strokes, and even cancer.
But it's not too late to protect kids from long-term harm, even if they're already overweight. In a new study, researchers compiled four earlier projects that measured 6,300 kids' BMI during childhood, then revisited them an average of 23 years later. (BMI is a shorthand way of seeing if your weight is too low, too high, or ideal for your height. You can calculate yours easily here.) They found that:
• Compared to those with a normal weight in childhood who weren't obese in adulthood, kids who were heavy in childhood and stayed that way as adults were substantially more likely to have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high "bad" LDL cholesterol, low "good" HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. This kind of picture bodes poorly for their heart health.
• However, people who were overweight or obese as kids, but were not obese as adults had similar risks as those who had a normal BMI throughout their lives.
Of course, keeping kids and teens at a healthy weight isn't necessarily easy - after all, they have a major say over how they'll eat and how much time they'll spend exercising. An important way to influence these choices is to set a good example:
• Serve the kinds of foods at home that you'd like them to eat when they're away from home - lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole-grain bread and pasta, and low-fat dairy. Limit junk food and candy around the house, and save trips to fast-food restaurants as an occasional treat.
• Ask your kids to help you pick out nutritious foods at the supermarket and cook them at mealtime. This will help them learn how to prepare food for themselves rather than depending on prepackaged foods and fast food.
• Live a fit, healthy life. Be sure you get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days to set a good example. If your kids are old enough to safely participate while you're running, jogging, or working out at the gym, bring them with you.
For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H.