Obesity increased among preschool-age children in recent years, study says

Preschool playground

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — It hasn’t been in the spotlight as much lately, but apparently the childhood obesity epidemic is not over.

While some studies over the last several years showed a leveling off, a new one revealed a sharp increase among the preschool population.

Since they aren’t old enough to make their own meals and snacks, this is really about the parents.

“Kids don’t listen to them all the time, but they watch them, so what the parents eat, if they exercise, how they handle stress, all those things get transferred to their children.’ said Dr. Phillip Snider, a weight loss specialist with Bon Secours.

The new study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics shows children ages 2-5 had a sharp increase in obesity from 2015-2016.

It also showed that Caucasian and Asian-American children have significantly lower obesity rates than children of other races.

“They’ve been taught over time this is how it’s normal to be in this society.” Dr. Snider told WAVY.com.

He said it’s all about teaching by your actions.

“It’s all about the family. There’s genetics involved, but then there’s also the behavioral component.”

10 On Your Side asked Dr. Snider what parents can do right now to make the biggest impact.

“If you were to pick one thing to focus on, that would be to cut out the juice.”

Juice is just empty calories.

The other thing you can do is to take a close look at your comfort foods.

“Like the macaroni and cheese, it tastes great, I like it, but it’s got so much fat in it, so many calories, so many carbohydrates.”

Which can lead to so many health problems when these little ones get older.

Dr. Snider says the bulk of our eating habits are established by age 4.

And while habits can change, it’s best to get kids eating well while they’re really small.

Adult issues like heart disease, diabetes and even joint problems from excess weight start in the preschool years.

Here’s a look at some of the obesity statistics for local communities, according to Bon Secours’ 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment:

  • Norfolk – 35 percent obese
  • Chesapeake – 31 percent of adults are obese
  • Newport News – 34 percent obese
  • Hampton: 32 percent obese
  • Portsmouth – 37 percent of adults are obese, according to a 2012 study via countyhealthrankings.org

In an effort to push back against obesity, Bon Secours says it offers a “Heart Health Academy” for middle schoolers, “Family Focus” nutrition and family classes, and weight loss programs.

Bon Secours says it’s also implemented community gardens, including one in East Ocean View where families can learn to grow and cook fresh vegetables.

Staff members at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News and Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth also grow vegetables to donate to local food shelters.

To learn more about their programs, click here.