Childhood obesity is a real problem facing American children, and parents are right to be concerned. It is important for parents today to understand this epidemic and what they can do to prevent or address any problems that contribute to and result from childhood obesity.

We must look at the environment in which we live, as it has become one that encourages and supports this epidemic. So many circumstances that have changed over the years that many people simply have been caught offguard by this rising problem in our youth. Less physical activity and unhealthy eating habits have become a mainstay in our lives, with this generation of children paying the price.

Once a child has passed the boundary between being overweight into obesity, the problems increase. Many children develop diabetes and other health issues, to say nothing of the emotional and psychological impact of going through childhood and adolescence with an obvious target for peers to pick on. Childhood obesity has changed the future of the next generation, where for the first time in decades, their life expectancy is predicted to be less than that of their parents. Here are a few tips on how you can help your child avoid this dangerous epidemic:

Education: Before you can address this problem you have to learn what causes childhood obesity and what actions can prevent it from happening. While it may seem like common sense to simply pay attention to diet and exercise, everything you buy in today's world has the potential to be an "unhealthy" choice. Knowing what specific foods, drinks and habits lead to this problem will help you identify and eliminate them from your day-to-day life.

Lead by example: You certainly cannot expect your children to be physically active and eat well if you are not doing the same thing. Children are not the only people suffering from obesity, therefore if your family is unfit, it is time to work on the solution together. Not only will it improve the health of all family members, it is the only way to expect success from your child.

Shop and eat smart: Pay attention to the foods that you purchase at the grocery store, and avoid bringing home those sugary treats that are bound to get discovered no matter where you store them. If there are only healthy foods from which to choose, the temptation to fill up on junk food and other unhealthy snacks is eliminated. Read labels carefully and always try to stock the house with fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks. It is up to you to set the example and provide healthy options to ensure your child does not start down the dangerous road to childhood obesity.

Get moving: There may never seem to be enough hours in the day, yet finding time each day to exercise is imperative to the health of the entire family. Pick walking, hiking, swimming or some other fun activity that will get yourself and your kids moving. The key is to turn off the TV, video games and laptop long enough to get up off the sofa and head in the right direction toward a healthy future.

With increased awareness and education, we can change the future for our children. By taking the necessary steps to improve diet and exercise for all family members, childhood obesity can be prevented, giving your child the best chance for a long and happy life.