No doubt, you’ve heard the news: Obesity is becoming an epidemic. The number of overweight people in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1980 and is closing in on 50 million. What’s more, the nation’s children are becoming fatter. Recent studies show that 15 percent of youngsters ages 6 to 19 are severely overweight, which can lead to serious health risks, including diabetes, high blood pressure and depression, not to mention low self-esteem.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently developed its first-ever policy statement on identifying and preventing obesity and recommends that pediatricians monitor all children for weight problems.
While your child may not be tipping the scales now, you should be aware of changes in your child’s weight. Preventing obesity before it begins is the best course of action. Start by talking with your pediatrician, who will look at growth charts and other factors to determine the right weight range for your child.
Obesity treatments vary, with the most successful programs concentrating on dietary changes and physical activity. Your child needs to learn about eating appropriate amounts and kinds of food and dealing with the personal and social factors that encourage poor habits.
And remember to listen to your child’s concerns and offer lots of love and praise. Children are more likely to feel good about themselves if you let them know you love them no matter what.
Healthy eating habits begin at home. If your son or daughter needs to lose weight or if you just want to keep your child on a healthy track, try these suggestions:
- Eat together at home as a family. This helps your youngster learn how to control portions, often exaggerated in restaurant meals. You’ll also be better able to monitor what your child is consuming.
- Be a role model. Actions speak louder than words, and if you make suitable food choices, so will your child. The same goes for exercise.
- Keep a variety of foods on hand at home. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit junk-food purchases and store healthy snacks in your pantry.
- Eat breakfast. Skipping this important meal can leave your child hungry and looking for food later in the day, making him or her more susceptible to poor food choices.
- Avoid fried foods. Frying foods adds calories, not nutrition. Choose other methods of cooking, using olive oil or vegetable oil.
- Use reduced-fat products. Try low-fat milk, mayonnaise, ice cream and crackers. Don’t make everything low fat—children need some fat in their diets.
- Teach moderation. Encourage ordering a smaller meal portion when you’re at a restaurant or suggest taking part of the meal home to save for another day.
- Encourage your child to be more physically active. Increase family leisure activities such as bike riding, walking or in-line skating. Assign chores that will get kids moving such as vacuuming or washing the car.
- Limit TV time. Find alternatives such as gardening, swimming, playing ball— anything that will get your child off the couch.
- Don’t reward your child with food. This sends the wrong message about food. Instead, give verbal praises, put stars on a chart or offer inexpensive gifts like stickers or dollar toys.