Childhood obesity awareness month takes place in September, shedding light on the fact that one-third of American children and teens are overweight or obese. This is triple the same measurement in 1963.

Based on the most recent data taken by the National Survey of Children’s Health in 2011, Texas ranks fifth nationally in obesity for children ages 10-17.

Nationally, 31.3 percent of children in this age group are overweight or obese. In Texas, 36.6 percent of children are in either of these categories. Only Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Arizona beat Texas.

“French fries are the most common vegetable that children eat, making up 25 percent of their vegetable intake,” said Michelle Mason, director of communications with the American Heart Association in the Gulf Coast division.

Mason said overweight children ages 7-13 can develop heart disease as early as 24, and obese children are twice as likely to die before age 55 than their non-overweight peers.

“The sad reality is, obese children as young as age 3 are now showing indicators for developing heart disease later in life,” Mason said.

To avoid these problems caused by poor nutrition and physical habits, the American Heart Association has made several recommendations for young children, including:

  • Children should get more physical activity daily (a recommended 60 minutes);

  • Children should have less screen time and more sleep;

  • Children ages 2-18 should only consume six total teaspoons of added sugar daily.

Wilson Moscoso-Donoso, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Cypress, echoed recommendations to decrease sugar consumption.

“Diets high in sugar have been connected to everything from cardiovascular disease to obesity and diabetes,” he said. “It’s important parents read the food labels and look for ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose or fructose. Those are other names for added sugars and should be avoided.”