Tips to keep kids healthy, prevent obesity

LOS ANGELES As part of the campaign, Eyewitness News teamed up with pediatricians from across Southern California to answer questions about childhood obesity, immunizations, and tips for keeping your kids healthy.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels across the U.S. An estimated 17 percent of children ages 2 to 17 are obese.

The Center for Disease Control defines obesity as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.

According to Kaiser Permanente, one out of 10 minority kids are obese, with the highest rates among Latino girls and African American boys.

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and genetics are the three leading causes of childhood obesity. Obese children and adolescents are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea. They are also more likely to become obese as adults.

According to Dr. Joni Bhutra, of Childrens Hospital L.A., the earlier kids begin to gain weight, the longer they will most likely be obese. Approximately 80 percent of children who are obese before the age of 10 will be obese when they're 25.

Bhutra says parents should encourage healthy eating habits, including smaller portion sizes.

"Look at the size of your kids' hand and that should be your portion size," advised Bhutra.

Parents should also keep their kids active and reduce sedentary activities, including the amount of time they sit in front of the computer and TV.

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Immunizations are one of the most powerful tools to fight against serious disease. Three studies in recent months concluded there is absolutely no connection between childhood vaccines and autism, yet more and more parents are expressing concerns.

"The only link we really have is they prevent disease, so by all means we really want all parents to immunize," said Dr. John Mangoni, from Huntington Hospital.

Parents have also expressed concern about their children getting all of the vaccinations at once, but Dr. Jayvee Regala, fron Northridge Hospital Medical Center, says parents should follow the regular vaccination schedule and not separate them out, as there is no evidence that getting multiple shots harms the immune system.

Disciplining your child

Does spanking your children have any long-term health effects?

A study by Tulane University showed kids who were spanked frequently at age 3 were more aggressive at age 5. Also, the research showed infants spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking children, saying it is the least effective way to discipline.

"Mostly while spanking might seem to work at first it often loses its impact with children," said Dr. Neha Vaghasia, from Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. "More importantly it gives the message of aggressiveness and anger as a solution to a problem rather than teaching children responsibility. And this can have negative ramifications later as these children grow older.

Dr. Vaghasia advises parents to use time-outs or withholding, and explain the natural consequences of their actions. When it comes to tantrums, she says the best was to deal with them is to actually ignore the child.

"That's the hardest thing to do because often tantrums are in a very public place where you want to resolve the situation, but actually by any kind of a reaction is considered a positive reinforcement to the child, whether you give in to what they want or you resort to punishment," said Dr. Vaghasia.

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