Being overweight is a serious problem for children, not only because it is associated with low self-esteem and social problems, but because of immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. Obese children are more likely to have bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Obese adolescents are likely to be prediabetic. Obese children often become obese adults, and are at increased risk for developing many forms of cancer later in life. It may require extra time and investment, but developing a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your child.
In the U.S., almost 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Many parents have difficulty recognizing when their child is obese or overweight. You cannot judge just by the child’s appearance. If your child is older than two years, ask your pediatrician to calculate his or her BMI (body mass index). A BMI over 85 percent means the child is overweight; a BMI over 95 percent means the child is obese.
Excessive weight gain occurs when a child burns fewer calories than he or she consumes. Poor eating habits, behavior, genetics, and the child’s environment all contribute to weight gain. You can help your child reach a healthy weight by making lifestyle changes to alter some of these factors.
Children have an advantage over adults - their bodies are growing. A child who begins eating well and being more active now can naturally outgrow some of the excess weight. As children become more active and build muscle tone, their metabolisms increase, helping them to achieve a normal weight.
Here are some tips to help your children lose weight:
- Educate yourself. The more you know about nutrition and exercise, the more likely you are to make healthy choices for your family. Learn to read food labels and be aware of what foods your children are eating.
- Make healthy lifestyle changes a family affair. Do not single out one child. Everyone in your family will benefit from a healthier diet and physical activity.
- Encourage regular activity. Team sports are good exercise, but it is important to find physical activities your children can enjoy every day, such as riding bikes, going for walks, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming, or jumping on a trampoline. Give younger children access to playground equipment or take them to a park.
- Reduce sedentary activities. Limit TV time to two hours or less per day. Promote playing active video games like wii dance games over sedentary video games.
- Remove junk foods from your family’s daily routine. Stock up on healthy snacks like raisins, cheese sticks, fruit cups, deli meats, and yoghurt. Serve pizza, cookies, and ice cream only occasionally, or have them when you eat out. Teach moderation. Do not eliminate treats entirely, as this can backfire and lead to cravings for forbidden foods.
- Observe regular mealtimes. Anticipate when your children will be hungry and be ready with a meal or a healthy snack.
- Do not attempt to count calories and enforce strict food limits on children. Their energy needs vary from day to day. Instead, concentrate on making healthy choices.
- Reduce carbohydrates in your family’s diet. Cut back on potatoes, pasta, bread, and baked goods made with white flour. Buy breads and cereals made with whole grains.
- Restrict or eliminate sugary drinks such as sodas and fruit juices, and empty calories such as candy.
- Prepare fresh foods as often as possible, and avoid convenience foods except in emergencies. Frozen meals and food that comes out of boxes and cans often contain extra fat, salt and sugar.
- Teach your children to make healthy choices by involving them in shopping and food preparation.
- Make sure your children are getting enough sleep.
- Avoid negative language and be patient. Nagging and criticism will only reinforce a negative self-image. Do not let food become the subject of arguments. Remember that no one wants to be overweight. Losing weight requires effort, and you may not succeed right away.
- Be aware of environmental or emotional factors that might affect weight gain. For example, a child who is unsupervised while her parents are at work might overindulge on junk food. A child who is sad because of social problems or a divorce may comfort himself by overeating. Help your child find other ways to cope with loneliness or unhappiness.
- Set a good example. Examine your own attitudes towards food and make changes in your lifestyle. You cannot expect your child to do something you cannot do yourself.
- Consult your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight gain. Your pediatrician will examine your child for possible physical causes, such as hormonal imbalances, and provide nutritional counseling.
Overweight and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention