Did you know that today 65% of adults and 34% of children are overweight or obese? The rate of overweight or obesity in children has tripled since the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, 14% of two- to five-year-olds and 17% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 in the U.S. are now overweight.

This disturbing development is due to several lifestyle factors including but not limited to a more sedentary lifestyle, TV/video games use, fast food, abundance of other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, and abundance of food in general.

There are severe health, quality of life and economic consequences to this trend. Overweight and obesity has increased the prevalence of chronic health conditions starting at an earlier age, even in school-age children including type II diabetes, early atherosclerosis, increased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and gall bladder disease.

Early childhood obesity that persists into adulthood is associated with more severe obesity among adults (Dietz WH. Overweight in Children and Adolescence. N Engl J Med.2004;350:855-857). Consequences of childhood obesity result in declining health status as the children become adults, increasing risk for some forms of cancer, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and early death. Additionally obesity has psycho-social consequences for youth and is associated with lower self-esteem and depression. What can be done?

This is a family issue and strategies to curb weight gain in children are best dealt with in a multimodal approach. Intensive family-based programs that include exercise, nutrition and behavior modification have been found to have the most favorable outcomes (Savoye M, et al. Effects of a Weight Management Program on Body Composition and Metabolic Parameters in Overweight Children. JAMA. 2007;297:2697-2704.) Families that eat meals together tend to be healthier, so try to schedule some family mealtime on a more frequent basis. The National Weight Loss Registry identified several factors for successful long-term weight loss. Among the factors were exercising at least an hour per day and avoiding fast food.

So, consider some activities that you can do as a family that are fun and burn calories. Here are some ideas: Take the whole family ice skating or bowling. Encourage your child to participate in sports. Your middle schooler wants a dog? Get one that needs lots of exercise and make it a contingency of getting a dog only if he/she agrees to walk him twice per day.

In order to pass on fast food more often, you will need to do some pre-planning such as going to the grocery store and having the right foods on hand to make quick, healthy meals. The grocery store is full of healthy shortcuts these days. I cook extra “good stuff” on weekends that can be extended into other healthy meals during the week. Remember to buy items for packing healthier lunches and to have on hand for healthy snack alternatives. Although there are some recent efforts in some districts to make school lunches healthier, most still resemble your local fast food restaurant fare. Remember, every little change you can make adds up to a healthier family.