According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

This alarming trend means 20% of children 6-11 years and 18% of children 12-19 years old are obese.

Obesity not only affects a child’s self-image and conception of self-worth it means children are at risk for very adult-type diseases such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and bone and joint problems. This also translates into a higher risk for many types of cancers in adulthood.

The CDC says prevention is the best way to avoid the risks of childhood obesity and encourages parents to instill the importance of healthy lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and physical activity into children at a young age.

Local registered dietician Rachel Pinos, who works for Avera Sacred Heart Hospital and Hy-Vee, says the earlier you start teaching healthy eating habits the better.

“Kids do know how much food is enough,” she said. “They know when they are full, so having clean plate rules is a bad principle.”

Rather than making a child finish all the food they are given, parents should give a smaller amount with more emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

“Just having fruits and vegetables available helps kids eat more,” she said. “Always have fruits and vegetables cut up and ready to be eaten and just don’t have the junk food in the house.”

Examples Pinos gave of healthy snacks include cut up fruit and vegetables, whole grain crackers, finger foods like grapes or apples, and vegetables dipped in hummus instead of ranch dressing or a piece of string cheese.

If your kids turn their noses at vegetables, Pinos recommends encouraging them to try new things.

“Tastebuds change seven times in one year,” she said. “It usually takes trying something new about five times before you really decide if you like it or not.”

Candy, chips, cookies and similar foods should be eaten only in your kids,” she said. “Go for a walk, play ball, go swimming. Do something together. That hour a day you spend with them will not only teach them good habits but will make a big difference in your relationship, too.”

Getting kids involved in team sports is also a great way to encourage physical activity and help kids build self-esteem and teamwork abilities, Moeller said.

“Yankton has a ton of kids sports,” she said. “We have the summer rec programs, intramural programs at the high school, school sports, soccer, River City Gymnastics, two dance studios, Junior Leader Football, hockey and skating, softball and baseball. There is always something. Let them try as many as possible until they find something they enjoy. It’s nice for them to have a sport they like, that they can continue to do as they grow up.”

The Summit Center also offers open gym and swim times and a Keep Fit Class for kids 12 and older to learn about the fitness equipment at the gym and how to use each piece.

As a physical trainer, Moeller said it helps to keep you motivated if you have a fitness buddy.

“When you have a friend or relative that will do it with you, it keeps you motivated and accountable,” she said. “The buddy system really is a great way to do any fitness program.”

Moeller said childhood obesity really is an epidemic, but it’s one everyone can overcome.

“It’s gotten out of hand, but there are a lot of programs out there for kids,” she said. “Search them out, look at the lake offerings online, read the newspaper for events at the lake and in town that might be fun for you and your kids, and if all else fails, take advantage of the great trails we have here in Yankton. Go for a walk and make it a regular event.”