Over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate in America tripled. Nearly one out of three children in the country are overweight or obese. This has serious implications for the health and wellness of our kids.
If your child is overweight, you probably want to ensure they get back on track and become healthy again. However, the weight-loss methods that work for adults may not be suitable for children. In this blog, CMCFresno will discuss the safe strategies for helping overweight children lose weight.
In the United States, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 14.4 million obese children and adolescents in 2017-2018, a statistic that continues to increase. Carrying too many pounds can affect a child’s health now and later in life. Excessive fat in kids can develop into a wide range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include:
Furthermore, obesity has psychological effects: Obese children are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood, as well as depression and social isolation. Moreover, health issues such as sleep apnea, asthma, joint and bone problems have links to being overweight.
Weight gain is normal for children as they grow. But it’s not always clear if a child is overweight or not. If you believe that your child is overweight, begin by taking their measurements — take their height and weight into account.
Then use a body mass index (BMI) calculator to determine where they rank on a BMI-for-age growth chart. Using these charts, you can see if your child’s weight falls below or above the 95th percentile for their age and gender, indicating whether they are overweight or obese.
Many factors contribute to obesity in children. The most common causes are genetic factors, insufficient exercise, unhealthy dietary habits, or a combination thereof. In some cases, medical conditions such as hormonal imbalances can cause excessive weight.
It usually begins with childhood overeating. Due to their smaller stature, children don’t require as many calories as adults. However, too many calories, especially from unhealthy foods such as fast food, soda, and chips, can result in weight gain.
Weight loss plans should be individualized. It depends on what is driving the weight gain in the first place. Healthy weight loss for kids should be slow and steady — about 1 pound a week. If your child has excessive weight, it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that can aid with weight control.
A complete weight-loss program for children should include a healthy eating plan, regular physical activity, and behavior therapy to help your child develop healthy habits. These are specific ways in which you can help your child lose weight safely.
The first step is an honest assessment of your child’s weight by talking with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor. The child might have an underlying medical condition that will worsen due to dieting too strictly. They can rule out any medical problems, such as thyroid or hormonal disorders, which might cause your child to gain weight.
Your pediatrician will ensure the recommended diet for your child still provides all the nutrients necessary for growth. Moreover, they can track their progress and adjust their weight loss plan as required.
Encourage your child to eat various foods from all the food groups. Limit fatty and fried foods, soda, juice with added sugar, and desserts. Diet for an overweight child must include these healthy foods:
It’s also best to use healthy cooking methods such as broiling, steaming, grilling, baking, or sautéing instead of frying.
A meal plan for an overweight child should involve serving appropriate portions per meal. Depending on your child’s age, height, and activity level, your doctor can help you figure out a proper amount of calories and food portions.
When eating at home, pay attention to portion size. A cup of pasta or rice is approximately the size of a tennis ball. About 3 ounces of meat, fish, or chicken are considered one serving – about the size of a deck of cards. An ounce of cheese is roughly equal to four dice.
While it may take a few tries and some practice to figure out how much your child should be eating, using measuring cups or food scales makes it easier. Additionally, you can use apps and calorie counters online as a guide. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for more information about portion sizes.
Making small changes to snacks can help parents ensure that their kids still get enough nutrients between meals. Avoid eating fast food, potato chips, and fried foods. Encourage healthier alternatives such as air-popped popcorn or baked chips. Try to offer raw vegetables or fresh fruit instead of chips or candy bars. Replace cookies with small portions of whole-grain crackers. Instead of ice cream, why not serve low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese.
Work with your child to create healthy meals and snacks. Involve your child in grocery shopping to choose a variety of healthy foods to meet nutritional needs. Then you can let them participate in preparing food, such as measuring ingredients, stirring, peeling, and doing other non-hazardous steps.
Additionally, it’s advisable to keep a food journal. Record everything they eat — including snacks, drinks, and desserts. By doing this, you can determine how many calories your child is eating and possibly identify problem areas in their diet. Food diaries can also provide insight into the types of food they consume. You can then plan and serve other types of cuisine they may enjoy.
Make sure kids get no more than one serving of juice a day. Water is the best drink for thirst! If your child drinks soda or sports drinks, limit these beverages to special occasions. Cut out commercial fruit juice, too, as they are packed with sugar and calories. Apart from water, you can serve freshly made smoothies and low-fat milk.
Your child should be encouraged to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, like walking or playing outdoors, joining an organized sports team, or participating in a structured exercise program. For younger kids, exercise doesn’t have to be done all at once. Brief bouts of active time throughout the day that add up to an hour will suffice.
There is no quick fix! Losing weight in a healthy, sustainable manner takes time, commitment, and effort. Don’t do fad diets. They don’t work, and they put children at risk for unhealthy eating behaviors, binge eating, and yo-yo dieting. Children who diet without medical supervision may not get enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for normal growth and development.
Magic pills don’t work and are dangerous. Diet pills, supplements, and other types of “magic” weight-loss cures advertised in magazines and television are not recommended for children and teens.
These medications and supplements have potential side effects, especially for still growing and developing teens.
It’s also vital that your child gets enough sleep — at least 10 hours each night for children between 5 and 12 years of age. Sleep allows the body and mind to rest, repair, and recharge. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain because it increases the production of certain hormones that lead you to feel hungry.
Lastly, kids mustn’t see having a weight loss plan or healthy eating as a punishment or something that’s done only when they’ve been bad. Instead, help them understand that taking care of their bodies is a way to feel good about themselves and be healthier now and in the future.
It’s important to remember that your child didn’t become overweight overnight. And correcting the problem won’t happen overnight either. Focus on improving your family’s overall eating habits and increasing physical activity rather than your child’s weight gain or loss. Be a role model by eating healthy foods yourself!
We hope these tips will help set your child on the path to a healthy weight. For well-child visits and consultation, reach out to CMC Fresno! Contact us by calling (559) 455-1500, or you can set up an appointment online.