YOUR OVERWEIGHT CHILD
the United States at least one child in five is overweight and the
number of overweight children continues to grow. Over the last 2
decades, this number has increased by more than 50 percent, and
the number of "extremely" overweight children has nearly doubled
(Archive Pediatric and Adolescent Med. 1995: 149: 1085-91). A doctor
determines if children are overweight by measuring their height
and weight. Although children have fewer weight-related health problems
than adults, overweight children are at high risk of becoming overweight
adolescents and adults. Overweight adults are at risk for a number
of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, high blood
pressure stroke, and some forms of cancer.
become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common causes
are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating
patterns, or a combination of these factors. In rare cases, a medical
problem, such as an endocrine disorder, may cause a child to become
overweight. Your physician can perform a careful physical exam and
some blood tests, if necessary, to rule out this type of problem.
whose parents or brothers or sisters are overweight may be at an
increased risk of becoming overweight themselves. Although weight
problems run in families, not all children with a family history
of obesity will be overweight. Genetic factors play a role in increasing
the likelihood that a child will be overweight, but shared family
behaviors such as eating and activity habits also influence body
child's total diet and his or her activity level both play an important
role in determining a child's weight. The increasing popularity
of television and computer and video games contributes to children's
inactive lifestyles. The average American child spends approximately
24 hours each week watching television-time that could be spent
in some sort of physical activity.
you think that your child is overweight, it is important to talk
with your child's doctor. A doctor is the best person to determine
whether your child has a weight problem. Physicians will measure
your child's weight and height to determine if your child's weight
is within a healthy range. A physician will also consider your child's
age and growth patterns to determine whether your child is overweight.
Assessing overweight in children is difficult because children grow
in unpredictable spurts.
example, it is normal for boys to have a growth spurt in weight
and catch up in height later. It is best to let your child's doctor
determine whether your child will "grow into" a normal weight. If
your doctor finds that your child is overweight, he or she may ask
you to make some changes in your family's eating and activity habits.
of the most important things you can do to help overweight children
is to let them know that they are okay whatever their weight. Children's
feelings about themselves often are based on their parents' feelings
about them. If you accept your children at any weight, they will
be more likely to accept and feel good about themselves. It is also
important to talk to your children about weight, allowing them to
share their concerns with you. Your child probably knows better
than anyone else that he or she has a weight problem. For this reason,
overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement
from their parents.
on the family.
should try not to set children apart because of their weight, but
focus on gradually changing their family's physical activity and
eating habits. Family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful
habits and does not single out the overweight child.
your family's physical activity.
physical activity, combined with healthy eating habits, is the most
efficient and healthful way to control your weight. It is also an
important part of a healthy lifestyle. Some simple ways to increase
your family's physical activity include the following:
Be a role model for your children. If your children see that you
are physically active and have fun, they are more likely to be
active and stay active for the rest of their lives.
family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment,
like walking, dancing, biking, or swimming. For example, schedule
a walk with your family after dinner instead of watching TV. Make
sure that you plan activities that can be done in a safe environment.
sensitive to your child's needs. Overweight children may feel
uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. It is
important to help your child find physical activities that they
enjoy and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities,
such as watching TV or playing video games.
more active throughout your day and encourage your family to do
so as well. For example, walk up the stairs instead of taking
the elevator, or do some activity during a work or school break-get
up and stretch or walk around.
point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore, but to
make the most of the opportunities you and your family have to be
your family healthy eating habits.
healthy eating practices early will help children approach eating
with the right attitude-that food should be enjoyed and is necessary
for growth, development, and for energy to keep the body running.
The best way to begin is to learn more about children's nutritional
needs by reading or talking with a health professional and then
to offer them some healthy options, allowing your children to choose
what and how much they eat. The pamphlet "Dietary Guidelines for
Americans" is a good source of dietary advice for healthy Americans
ages 2 years and older. This pamphlet is available from WIN.
place your child on a restrictive diet.
should never be placed on a restrictive diet to lose weight, unless
a doctor supervises one for medical reasons. Limiting what children
eat may be harmful to their health and interfere with their growth
Most of the foods in your diet should come from the grain products
group (6-11 servings), the vegetable group (3-5 servings), and
the fruit group (2-4 servings). (See chart for suggested serving
Your diet should include moderate amounts of foods from the milk
group (2-3 servings) and the meat and beans group (2-3 servings).
that provide few nutrients and are high in fat and sugars should
be used sparingly. Fat should not be restricted in the diets of
children younger than 2 years of age.