Childhood Obesity in Minorities

Research has shown that Hispanic and African-American children are more likely to struggle with obesity during their adolescent years than their Caucasian peers. Although childhood obesity has steadily become more common in every race since the 1970s, minorities still report higher percentages of overweight children. According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, African-American and Hispanic children are at higher risk for nearly every cause of childhood obesity before they even reach four years of age.

Risk Factors for Childhood Obesity
Many risk factors are already in place before a child is even born. Other risk factors are established during infancy. Children are more likely to experience obesity during their preschool and elementary years if their mothers are obese, if their mothers experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy, or if their mothers struggle with depression. Parents can decrease the risk of obesity in their children during their earliest stages of life by not introducing solid foods until after 6 months and continuing to breastfeed for at least a year.

As a child ages, parents can continue encouraging healthy eating habits and activities by limiting time in front of the television, not putting a TV set in the child's room, and avoiding fast food as a meal option for the kids.

What Can Be Done
CBS News
reports that inflammation and risk for future heart disease can be found in obese children as young as three years old. Before a child even reaches preschool, lifelong habits and consequences have already begun. Educating expecting or new parents could help get more children off on the right foot from birth.

Teachers and healthcare professionals can also help older children to make healthier decisions. Minority and low-income children are more likely to make their own meals while their parents are at work, and they often reach for high-sodium, fatty, processed "instant" foods that aren't nutritional and can lead to weight gain. Teaching all children the basics of nutrition and showing them how to put together a few simple, healthy meals, such as whole wheat sandwiches with dark leafy greens or salads filled with a variety of vegetables, could lower the disparities among minorities when it comes to weight. School administrators can also help out by limiting the availability of junk foods in the lunch room and through vending machines.

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Benefits of Child Play Time on Health

Along with good nutrition, proper hygiene, and a well-kept schedule of doctor visits, children also need regular and imaginative play to have a nurturing childhood. It may seem frivolous and unnecessary to busy parents, but encouraging a lifestyle of play will help children transition into a healthy and fulfilling adulthood.

Physical Development
For toddlers and preschool-aged children, play often helps develop motor skills, balance, coordination, and strength. Whether your child is building with blocks, playing hopscotch, or catching a ball, he is slowly learning the movements and gaining the strength he'll need as he grows older. Encourage your child to engage in active play by getting involved in his play times. Initiate a game of tag in your backyard, or jump into a sandbox with him and start digging together.

Emotional Health
Young children often use role-playing games to understand and decipher the emotions they encounter in everyday life. Kids like to recreate environments that they are familiar with, such as family life or a school classroom, giving themselves the opportunity to take on a different role such as a parent or teacher. This kind of play allows the child to step into someone else's shoes and understand their interactions from a different angle.

Imaginative fantasy-based play also gives your child the opportunity to explore and express their emotions in a safe way. When your child is upset or angry, encourage him to try some kind of creative play as an outlet for his or her feelings.

Social Skills
It is important for your child to not only play on their own or with you, but also to spend time playing with other children their own age. These interactions will help your child to develop the social skills he or she will need  school, or later in the workplace. Give your children room for free play when they are playing with friends and allow him or her to try to work out conflict before stepping in to help.

Regular check-ups at the pediatrician and dentist are also important for a growing, healthy child. Visit the Hillsborough County Health Department website to find out about free and inexpensive resources for healthcare in Hillsborough County.

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Importance of Childhood Vaccines

Americans are now experiencing record lows for measles, hepatitis B, diphtheria, mumps, and many other preventable childhood diseases through vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dutifully following the list of vaccinations recommended by the CDC not only protects your children from serious illness, it also protects the other children and adults around them. Beginning at birth with a Hepatitis B vaccination, a schedule of shots is advised that continues regularly until the child is six years old, some requiring boosters after that.

How Vaccines Work
The only natural way to build up immunity to disease is to actually contract the illness and allow the immune system to create the antibodies. Unfortunately, for many diseases this could lead to serious consequences or fatality. Vaccines are a safe method of creating an immunity during childhood, without risking a full blown illness. The child is minimally exposed to the disease – enough for his immune system to learn how to fight back, but not enough to actually create the sickness inside him. Some vaccines may have minor short-term side effects such as muscle soreness or a slight fever.

Vaccines often work best at a certain age, so following the recommendations of the CDC and your doctor is crucial. If your child has fallen behind, it's not too late. Talk to your doctor about the most effective way to catch up.

Preventable Diseases
The CDC lists the following childhood diseases that have an effective vaccine for prevention:

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Diphtheria
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b
  • Influenza
  • Polio
  • Meningococcal
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Rotavirus
  • Tetanus
  • Chicken pox (varicella)

You may not see many of these illnesses anymore, thanks to childhood vaccinations. It may seem tempting to skip these recommended shots, assuming that exposure won't be common, but these viruses and conditions still spread among the unvaccinated, especially when leaving the country or even enjoying the company of international travelers. If childhood vaccination numbers decrease, instances of these diseases will increase in America.

The Hillsborough County Health Department provides vaccinations for both children and adults at a variety of medical facilities. Find a location that's close to you.

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Oral Health Disparities

Health Equity Coalition of Hillsborough County is committed to eradicating health disparities. One commonly overlooked health problem is oral health. Oral health is an important component to overall health. Not only can oral health be an indication of other health problems, oral health problems can lead to other health problems in the body.

Most oral health issues are preventable, however numerous disparities exist. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Black and Hispanic populations have poorer oral health than White populations
  • Mexican American and black children suffer the greatest rates of tooth decay (cavities)
  • Mexican American and black adults suffer twice the amount of tooth decay compared to White adults
  • Children from lower-income households are almost twice as likely to have tooth decay as those from higher-income households.
  • Education level is also related to oral health disparities

Tooth Decay
Many people view cavities as part of childhood, however tooth decay can affect a child’s quality of life due to pain, discomfort, difficulty concentrating and school absences.

Fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay or cavities. Most states, including Florida, enhance the water supply with fluoride. Children should drink at least a pint of fluoridated water each day. It is also recommended that children and adults brush twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. Flossing daily is also recommended to remove plaque and bacteria from in between teeth.

Another method of preventing tooth decay is to apply plastic sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where most decay occurs; however access is often limited to families that can afford the procedure.

In Hillsborough County
The water in Hillsborough County has been fluoridated since 1994. About 88% of Hillsborough County residents have access to fluoridated water. The Hillsborough County Oral Health Coalition estimates that over 33,000 children live in areas without the fluoridated water supply. Some community and school-based efforts include providing tablets or mouth rinses.

Access to Care
It is critical to increase enrollment in Medicaid and other public insurance programs that will provide access to dental care for children. Directly related to this, more dentists need to accept Medicaid so these children can receive care.

Untreated oral health problems can lead to additional health problems that can be very serious. Oral health disparities cannot be swept under the rug.

Hillsborough County Oral Health Coalition

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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