Health experts say the current generation of children may be the first in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Why: One third of American kids are overweight.

Childhood obesity: a complex problem

Cleveland Clinic dietitians say childhood obesity is a complex problem resulting from a variety of cultural and lifestyle changes. Kids are increasingly sedentary, spending an estimated five hours a day in front of the TV or computer.

And portion sizes have exploded. Super-size has become standard fare. Geography, genetics and household income contribute, as well.

But the basic equation is simple: too many calories in and too few calories out. It can all add up to a lifetime of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep disorders and depression.

Isn’t it baby fat?

“A child with good eating habits and daily exercise is on the right track to a healthy physique,” says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Jill Fisher.

“Unfortunately, seven out of 10 overweight adolescents will become overweight adults. If the child has an overweight parent, that number jumps to eight out of 10,” she says.

Fortunately, through a series of small changes, families can turn the tide. Structured programs like Cleveland Clinic’s Fit Youth are helping parents and their kids learn to eat better and move more.

What is the Fit Youth program?

“We focus on healthy changes they can adopt for the rest of their lives,” says Mrs. Fisher, who helped launch Fit Youth in 2005. Participants in the 10-week program learn to think about food choices to avoid mindless eating, and to find enjoyable ways to exercise. When kids learn to make healthy lifestyle choices when they are young, they can avoid many of the long-term effects, she says.

Find out more about Fit Youth:

Contact Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital 216.445.0299

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New Video Games Promote Fitness

Parents tired of chasing their kids outside to play are getting a break. Exercise video games like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Sports can get kids’ hearts racing indoors.

Recent studies presented to the American College of Sports Medicine echo what doctors have suspected. Engaging in exercise based video games boosts children’s activity levels enough to meet health guidelines for moderate- intensity activity.

Cleveland Clinic sports medicine specialists say exercise-based video games shouldn’t replace tried and true activities like riding bikes and playing tag. But they can be used as an additional tool for keeping kids moving, particularly during Cleveland’s long winters. Video games like boxing and tennis use more than twice the energy of traditional video games. Cleveland Clinic specialists can help your child exercise safely.