For parents of children with weight problems, it can be a confusing situation. Should you restrict their food or just leave well enough alone and hope they grow out of it? The key is to help your children adopt healthful habits that will stay with them through life.
A Growing Problem
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, between 2007-2008, 17% of children and adolescents were
in the US.
Childhood weight problems often carry over into adulthood, and overweight adults are at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and
heart disease. Worse, conditions once associated only with adults, such as
type 2 diabetes
(a major risk factor for
and heart attacks), are now increasingly being found in some children and adolescents.
Several factors may be to blame. In rare cases, a medical problem may be the cause. If you suspect your child has a weight problem or is developing one, take him to the pediatrician for a full exam.
The most common factors in childhood obesity may include the following:
Lack of Exercise
Experts blame too much television, computer time, and video games.
Consuming Too Many Calories
Today's time-pressed families are relying more and more on convenience foods and fast foods, many of which are high in calories, especially from carbohydrates. High fat intake from burgers, fries, and pizza plays a role, but many kids are gulping down hundreds of calories a day in the form of sodas and sweetened juice drinks.
Overly-large serving portions at both restaurants and at home have also likely played a role. Additionally, many schools do not provide healthy lunches.
Research has shown that children with overweight parents and/or siblings are more likely to be overweight themselves. While genes may play a role, it may also be that parents pass on unhealthful behaviors and habits to their children.
Dos and Don'ts for Parents
The best advice for parents is to help your kids eat healthfully, be active, and build self-esteem.
Here are some dos and don'ts to help you:
Kids need to know that you love and respect them unconditionally and that their weight does not define their self-worth. Kids who feel loved and confident are more likely to be able to make positive lifestyle changes and feel good about themselves while they are doing it.
Don't be the "food police."
Watching over your kids like a hawk and creating a list of "forbidden foods" is likely to backfire. Kids whose diets are severely restricted will often resort to sneaking food and even binging in private.
Teach your children about balanced nutrition.
The whole family should have a basic understanding of what constitutes a
healthful diet. If you need help, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian.
Involve the children in shopping, menu planning, and cooking.
It is helpful for kids to be involved and feel like they have some control over their diet.
Have several healthy snacks on hand.
It is normal for kids to get hungry between meals. Healthful snacks will keep them going throughout the day. Kid-friendly choices include apple slices with peanut butter, yogurt with granola, dried fruit and nuts, and pre-cut vegetable sticks with low-fat dip.
Don't use food as punishment or reward.
Kids should understand that food is fuel for a healthy body, as well as a source of pleasure. Associating food with punishment or reward may distort children's views of the role of food in their lives.
Have your kids eat their meals and snacks at the table.
Kids (and adults) who eat while watching TV or doing other activities are more likely to overeat because they are not paying attention to how much they are eating.
Encourage physical activity.
This may be one of the most important things you can do for your kids. Regular exercise is vital to weight control, as well as to health. While team sports or community activity programs are great, it is also a good idea for parents to exercise with their kids and make it a family affair, such as walks after school or weekend hikes.
Limit TV/computer time. Set reasonable limits to how long your children can sit in front of the television or the computer.
Don't give your children any weight-loss remedies or medicines.
Many are not safe for children and could cause harmful side effects.
Talk to the pediatrician before giving any weight-loss medicine.
Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep. Not getting enough sleep may increase your child's risk of obesity. Depending on your child's age, he may need 9-11 hours of sleep each night.
Healthful Habits for Life
The best advice for any family is to eat and enjoy healthful food together and to exercise together. Kids who learn healthful behaviors as part of a family lifestyle are much more likely to continue those healthful habits throughout their lives.
Overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/. Updated July 2008. Accessed July 29, 2008.
Thomas H. Obesity prevention programs for children and youth: Why are their results so modest?
Health Educ Res.
2006;21:783-95. Epub 2006 Nov 10.
10/8/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Laurson KR, Eisenmann JC, Welk GJ, Wickel EE, Gentile Da, Walsh DA. Combined influence of physical activity and screen time recommendations on childhood overweight.
6/25/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Anderson SE, Whitaker RC. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125(3):420-428.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a