Weight Management for Kids
The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate – one out of three kids are now considered obese or overweight. Figuring out if a teen is overweight can be more complicated than it is for adults. That’s because teens are still growing and developing.
Doctors and other health care professionals often use a measurement called body mass index (BMI) to determine if someone is overweight. After calculating BMI, a doctor will plot the result on a BMI growth chart. A BMI at or above the “95th percentile” line on the chart is considered in the obese range. A BMI number that is equal to or greater than the 85th percentile line but less than the 95th is considered overweight.
Obesity has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, asthma and emotional problems. Preventing kids from becoming overweight means adapting the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together. Helping kids learn healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example.
- Eating habits are started very early in life, and parents serve as role models for their children. Even if your child is a teenager, remember, children are more open than adults to changes in eating habits.
- Never force a baby to empty a bottle and do not add sugar to formula or baby cereal. Remember, fussiness and sucking do not necessarily mean a baby is hungry. Pay attention to your baby’s eating cues. Most infants need to be fed every two to three hours initially. Before you offer food, try rocking, stroking, holding or a pacifier.
- Avoid using food as a bribe, reward, form of entertainment or consolation for disappointment or stress. Provide non-food rewards such as stickers, a toy, clothes, a trip to the park or library, or time with friends and family.
- Limit juice to 4 ounces a day. Encourage your child to drink water, skim or 1 percent milk. Avoid pop, sports drinks, sweet tea and fruit punch.
- Offer a variety of foods including fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
- Don’t withhold food as punishment.
- Serve whole grain cereals, breads, pasta, crackers, fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Establish regular meal and snack schedules with foods eaten in the kitchen. If your child needs a snack, structure a snack schedule with set times and pick healthy food options like string cheese or low-fat yogurt.
- Become a label reader. Select nutrient dense foods balanced with low-calorie options.
- A “good eater” isn’t a big eater. It’s the total for the day that counts, the sum of three meals plus two snacks. It’s better to eat small portions more often, especially for younger kids. Make all foods count nutritionally.
Increased exercise may be the most effective way to help a child slim down. From the day a child is born, make the child’s environment an active one. Set a good example. Exercise with your child.
Your goal should be 60 minutes of physical activity five or more days of the week. Contact your local community center, YMCA or Parks and Recreation Department for fitness ideas. Try to find activities your child will enjoy to ensure success, like hiking, biking, or sports like basketball, karate or soccer.
Individual sports, like swimming, may be better than team-oriented sports for some kids. Consider investing in exercise equipment like a treadmill or a NintendoWii Fit® or Xbox Kinnect® or think about enrolling your child in dance or karate classes. Group classes and team sports offer even more opportunities to exercise.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the incidence of obesity was highest among children who watched a large amount of TV a day, and lowest among children watching an hour or less per day.
And consider this fact: According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, other than sleeping, kids today spend more time in front of the computer and television screens than any other daily activity. Make sure your child spends no more than two hours a day on “screen time,” e.g., TV, video games, the computer, etc.
Obese kids may have negative feelings about themselves, causing a distorted concept of their appearance or how others perceive them. They turn to food as a way to cope with traumatic experiences, failure and disappointment.
Acceptance of your child no matter what his weight – along with praise – helps build self-esteem. Love your child as she is; being thin doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Ongoing encouragement and reinforcement for success are very important to an overweight child. Professional counseling also can help children feel better about themselves.
- The most successful children are those whose parents eat healthy right along with them. Be a good role model for your child.
- Eliminate problem foods from your shopping list and your home.
- Encourage your child to be active and healthy by being active as well.
- Follow the same eating plan as your child — not a fad diet.
- Meal plan should include fish, lean meat or poultry; bread, pasta or cereal; vegetables; fruit; low-fat dairy products; nuts; and a small amount of heart-healthy fats and sweets. See www.choosemyplate.gov. Never follow an eating plan that eliminates food groups or types of food, such as carbohydrates. At least half of your plate should be fruit and vegetables.
- Learn appropriate serving sizes. Consider buying measuring cups. This helps manage even junk foods.
- Never allow the child to “starve,” skip meals or eat so little that he gets famished. It’s a good idea to check with your child’s physician and meet with a registered dietitian before starting any meal plan, particularly one with restricted calories. Skipping meals or fasting is not helpful with weight loss. Allowing a child to become overly hungry may result in overeating at the next meal.
- Don’t deny a sweet tooth all the time. Eliminating sweets completely can cause cravings. Cookies, ice cream and pie can be included in small portions about once a week. Fresh fruits, frozen yogurt and graham crackers will satisfy the desire for sweets and can be offered more often.
- Reward your child for even the smallest amount of progress. Eating healthier, increasing activity, changing behaviors and maintaining or losing weight all deserve praise. Remember, a non-food reward is best. Sticker charts can be helpful with rewards at the end of the week.
- Plan for healthy snacks: fruit, pretzels, low-sugar cereal, popcorn, vegetables or low-fat dairy products. The best snacks are ready to eat when the “hungries” strike. Let the child help prepare these ahead of time.
- Eat meals and snacks at the table with the TV off.
- Don’t expect miracles. Measure weight loss in weeks, months and years, not days. Use body measurements, too. Obese kids need to focus on a gradual, sustainable weight loss of no more than ½ to 1 pound a week in order to make weight maintenance a success.
- Value your children. Their worth is more than the sum total of their weight. They need constant reassurance of that fact.
Akron Children’s Hospital’s offers a variety of fitness programs for children including Kohl’s Community Youth Fitness and Kid’s Future Fitness Clubs. For more information, call 330-543-8260.