Preventing Childhood Obesity Interview

Dr. Diana Lattimore
Dr. Diana Lattimore, Ph.D.

LoveToKnow welcomes health and fitness expert Dr. Diana Lattimore, Ph.D., of the University of San Francisco to discuss strategies for preventing childhood obesity. Dr. Lattimore provides insight into how parents can help their children stay active and maintain a healthy weight. She also explains how parents and children can participate in the federal Let's Move Campaign to fight childhood obesity.

About Dr. Diana Lattimore, Ph.D.

Dr. Diana Lattimore, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Exercise and Sport Science Department at the University of San Francisco (USF). She specializes in working with children to encourage healthy physical activity. She has conducted extensive research and community service projects to increase physical activity for underserved and at-risk children. She teaches courses that deal with promoting a healthy lifestyle, encouraging physical activity and exercise psychology. Dr. Lattimore is also a board member of Generations Wellness and a committee member of the Child and Youth studies committee at USF.

Preventing Childhood Obesity Interview

Dr. Lattimore explains the childhood obesity epidemic and how parents can help children achieve a healthy weight.

Childhood Obesity Epidemic

LoveToKnow (LTK): Why should every parent be concerned about childhood obesity?

Dr. Diana Lattimore (Lattimore): Childhood obesity is unfortunately still on the rise. Approximately 15-20% of children and adolescents are obese. Also, more than 12.5 million of these 2-19 year-olds are overweight.

Major physical and mental health problems are associated with obesity as well as chronic diseases in children, such as Type II Diabetes and risk factors for heart disease.

LTK: Is it also a concern for families with reasonably active lifestyles?

Lattimore: Being regularly active is definitely a huge part of the equation with 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended for children. But exercise is not the only element of providing for healthy children. Families also need to make sure children are eating a balanced diet with a significant portion of fruits and vegetables. Decreasing or eliminating soda consumption is another major aspect of controlling obesity.

LTK: The Let's Move campaign states that the childhood obesity rate tripled over the past three decades. What are some of the reasons that the childhood obesity rate continues to grow?

Lattimore: There are four main reasons for the increase in childhood obesity: increase in soda consumption, decrease in fruits and vegetable consumption, decrease in overall physical activity including PE in school, and an increase in sedentary activities (TV, video games, computer usage).

Diet and Exercise Are Necessary for Health

LTK: The Let's Move campaign stresses the importance of both diet and physical activity to help children prevent obesity and stay healthy. Could you explain the importance of both nutritious eating and exercise in the fight against childhood obesity?

Lattimore: Staying at a healthy weight is all about energy balance; energy (or calories) in, versus energy (calories) out. Consumption of 3500 calories equals one pound. The foods and drinks we consume give us energy, but we need to be smart about what we are consuming so we are getting enough carbohydrates, proteins and fats without consuming extra calories.

For example, a 20oz bottle of soda contains 250 calories without any nutritional value. Therefore, with every 20oz. soda consumed in a day, that is 250 empty calories (no nutrient value) added to our total caloric intake. To maintain current weight, a person must expend as many calories as they bring in during the day; therefore, adults and children need to be physically active every day in order to maintain weight, much less lose weight. Children unfortunately are consuming less milk (which contains nutrients -- protein, carbohydrates, minimal fat if 1-2% as well as some vitamins and minerals) and more soda throughout the day. Each 12oz can of soda has been shown to increase the risk of obesity by 60%.

How Much Exercise Do Children Need?

LTK: According to Let's Move, a child needs 60 minutes of physical activity a day for optimal health. Is this accurate or do children need more exercise?

Lattimore: Current physical activity recommendations for children are 60 minutes, but we need to be careful that it is 60 minutes of actual activity and not 30 minutes with 30 minutes of break time. However, younger children (preschool age) do shorter bouts of activity and then they rest before playing again. This is a natural part of development. It is fine as long as children end up with at least 60 minutes of activity time throughout the day.

LTK: Do overweight children need more exercise daily than healthy weight children? If so, what are your recommendations for children trying to lose weight?

Lattimore: All children need at least 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous daily physical activity. For overweight children, engaging in more physical activity will help lower weight.

How Parents Can Encourage Exercise

LTK: How can parents encourage children to get enough exercise daily? Can play activities count toward daily exercise? If so, please give examples.

Lattimore: For kids, having fun is the biggest key! Stop thinking of it as "exercise" and go back to thinking of playing. Expending energy is what we are after. Children can participate in organized sports such as soccer, baseball or gymnastics, but sports are not the only way kids can be active. Jumping rope, skipping, relay races, riding bikes, dizzy bat race, obstacle courses, etc. are all considered physical activity. Parents need to make it a priority to start engaging in some of these activities with their child(ren).

LTK: Are there certain types of exercise that parents should encourage? Why are these exercises more effective for weight control or healthy weight maintenance?

Lattimore: Parents should encourage cardiovascular types of activity as well as strength building exercises since both are vital to overall health. However, the majority of the 60 minutes should be cardiovascular, especially for those trying to control weight. Strength exercises like push-ups or lunges ensure healthy bones and muscles; however, cardiovascular activities are most important for heart health and maintaining a healthy weight.

Effective Exercise for Children

LTK: What types of exercises are most effective for children who are overweight and trying to lose weight?

Lattimore: The exercises should be cardiovascular and should be activities they enjoy such as soccer, running, jumping rope, and swimming laps. Again, it has to be fun or they won't want to do it. Be creative and make games out of the activities. Often overweight children don't want to play sports or participate in games because they are afraid they will get ridiculed by other children. Therefore, it is important to do things to make overweight children more apt to participate in games or sports. A variety of things can be done to help overweight children build confidence and have fun.

One thing that can be done is to change the rules of typical games so everyone is starting off on the same playing field. For example, when playing baseball, make everyone bat with their weakest hand and then run backwards to the bases. This makes the game more fun and less about who is the most talented. Another idea to initially engage children and make them feel successful is to have them play some of the active games on Wii, such as boxing or the Wii Fit.

LTK: The government campaign also recommends that families as a whole get more daily physical activity. What are your recommendations for family activities that promote physical activity and healthy eating?

Lattimore: Riding bikes to the park or through the neighborhood, taking walks or hikes together, climbing stairs instead of using an elevator, swimming, playing or practicing sports together are all fun and healthy ways to be active together as a family. Also, parents can make healthy snacks, such as ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins), with their kids to take with them on any family adventure.

For more information about preventing childhood obesity, visit the Let's Move Campaign official website. The site provides many useful tools and advice to help parents and children incorporate daily physical activity in their lives, such as progress tracking, recipes and the President's active lifestyle challenge. Dr. Lattimore also has a helpful publication on childhood obesity - A Snapshot of Truth: Kids, PE, Soft Drinks!, by Lattimore, D., Liljenquest, K., Meek, R. (2010), CAHPERD 72 (3) 44-45.

LoveToKnow thanks Dr. Lattimore for the insightful interview and helpful recommendations.

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Preventing Childhood Obesity Interview