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Sharon Chirban, Ph.D. Headshot

Why We Need to Fight Against Childhood Obesity Now

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The nation's struggle with obesity has been going on for years. But recently, we've declared war on the problem.

The Centers for Disease Control said last month that one in three people would have diabetes by the year 2050, and that one in three children born this year will get it at some point in their lifetime. The numbers are alarming and might just be enough to motivate people to make a true effort to change the way we live.

While there are other causes for diabetes such as predisposition and an aging population, obesity is thought to be largely responsible for this surge.

Several national campaigns have been suggested -- and some implemented -- as a way of curbing the problem, including a tax on soda and demanding that fast food restaurants offer nutrition information to patrons and change their menus to include healthier meal options.

This conversation has sparked much debate over who is responsible for keeping our children healthy and what exactly we should be doing to battle this problem.

First Lady Michelle Obama has started her own campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids. Her Let's Move program is aimed at engaging schools, families and communities in simple ways to help kids be more active, eat better and get healthy.

While the campaign is aggressive, I think we've reached a point where that is what we need. But not everyone agrees.

Sarah Palin recently attacked the idea, saying "we all have God-given rights to make our own decisions for our children, for our own families in what we should eat."

While they are both entitled to their opinions, engaging in a public war is only going to further confuse parents on what they can do to prevent their children from falling down this unhealthy road.

But obesity isn't the only unhealthy road parents need to be worried about. While it is important to push kids to be healthy, certain tactics could be leading to another problem at the other end of the spectrum -- eating disorders.

Now this might sound strange, considering most people don't think of obesity and eating disorders in the same breath, but in fact they can be two extremes of the same problem.

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that eating disorders in children under the age of 12 rose 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

Again, the numbers are alarming. They should also make us stop and think as to whether or not these two epidemics are related.

I'm concerned we could be sending the wrong message to parents on how to teach their children to be healthy. And this isn't to fault parents; this is a more difficult task than ever.

Parents are forced to walk a tightrope when it comes to educating their children on the importance of healthy eating habits and living an active lifestyle.

While you want to help your children make good choices when it comes to eating, too much pressure or the wrong approach could end up sending a damaging message about food and body image that stays with your child for years to come, and sometimes follows them into adulthood.

It is essential that within our homes we are providing our children with well-balanced meals and encouraging them to play sports. But this doesn't mean we should be teaching our kids to count calories at the age of nine, or removing all junk food from the house and labeling it "bad."

It is important to remember that the focus should never be on losing weight, but rather living healthy. We don't want our children to grow up to be obese, because of the inherent health risks that brings with it.

Some simple ways you can help your children stay healthy:

Family Dinners. Having family dinners together allows you to prepare healthy meals, observe your child's eating habits and also presents an opportunity to talk to them about the benefits of healthy eating.

Education. Ultimately it boils down to education. You want to give your children the knowledge and skills that allows them to make the right choices for themselves. Trying to scare them into eating their broccoli isn't effective and will likely only make them hate it; but educating them on why it is good for them might just make them reconsider their stance against all things green.

Exercise. The other piece to the puzzle is exercise and physical activity. It seems ironic that we have to convince our children to go outside and play, but some need the push. The accessibility of the Internet, social media and video games is luring kids away from the simple pleasures of running around outside being kids.

Lead By Example. The most important thing we as parents can do is to lead by example. This could mean skipping McDonald's in favor of sitting down to a home cooked meal or joining your child outside for a little exercise -- and not as a means of losing weight, but for simple enjoyment.