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8 Ways To Beat Childhood Obesity
Your Kids Can’t Avoid Excess Pounds On Their Own, Helping Them Now Can Prevent Serious Problems Down The Road

June 11th, 2004

By Louis Wittig : eCureMe Contributor
June 10th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

If you believe the children are our future, the future is in troubling shape. 22 million children around the world, a disproportionately high number of them here in the U.S., have learned the adult vice of eating too much and exercising too little. One in five kids is America is currently overweight: that number is double what it was just decades ago. The consequences for the health of an entire generation are ominous. Type II diabetes, which physicians used to expect only in patients who’d put in a lifetime of hard eating, is spreading like wildfire among the young. Fully 27% of all children (and upwards of 60% of obese children) exhibit at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease - the heart attack and stroke producing condition usually associated with middle-aged men. Moreover, the ruthless teasing that overweight kids can get from their peers leaves psychological scars that often develop into low self-esteem and depression.

8 Ways To Beat Childhood Obesity

Strategies to prevent childhood obesity before it takes hold, and start slimming down where it already has, aren’t always obvious. Children don’t think, eat or problem solve in the same way adults do, so they can’t handle the usually adult challenge of weight loss. Just broaching subject of weight with your child can send them into a paroxysm of anxiety and anger that, in turn, can push them to eat even more. Taking action as a parent isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Overweight children have a 70% chance of taking their excess pounds, and all the health risks they imply, into adulthood with them. Without a parent’s help, that figure is much more likely to be 100%.

Below are some of the most important and effective ways you can help your child:
  • If you’re worried that your child may be too heavy, be sure by bringing him or her to their pediatrician for a proper diagnosis. Children who look like they’re carrying a few too many pounds may be bulking up before a growth spurt: a perfectly healthy pattern. Allowing a doctor to make the call can also make it easier for you and your child to take action. As body image can be a sensitive topic, children are likely to get defensive about it with whoever broaches the subject. "If they’re going to get angry at someone," says Colleen Thompson, M.S., R.D. a nutritionist at the University of Connecticut and author of Overcoming Childhood Obesity, "let them get angry at the doctor." This will allow your child to see you not as the bad guy, but as someone who is going to help them with their weight.

  • Whether or not your child is obese, the best thing you can do for their long-term health is to be a good role model. Like any behavior, kids learn healthy habits. If you build nutrition and regular exercise into your life, they’ll pick up on it.

  • Monitoring your child’s diet is important, but too much control can backfire. "There are a lot of studies out there that show if you’re too controlling about a specific food or group of foods, like junk food, your child will grow up seeing them as forbidden fruit and when they can, overindulge in them," says Thompson.

  • Unless your pediatrician says otherwise, focus on improving your child’s overall nutrition and exercise levels instead of aiming to have them lose a certain amount of pounds or consume fewer calories. These adult weight loss tactics aren’t safe for children. Because kids are still growing, arbitrarily limiting how much they eat or how heavy they should be could interrupt their growth.

  • Younger children can often be picky eaters. If a child won’t eat what’s at the table, he or she may leave hungry and thus overeat later in the day. In addition, if your child’s picky about vegetables, fruits and whole grains, they’re blocking wholesome powerhouses out of their diet. To combat picky eating, make sure that there are a couple of "safe" foods that you know he or she will like - like milk or bread - on the table at every meal, so they won’t leave with an empty stomach. To get your child to be more adventurous, involve them more in meal preparations. Whether they make a salad, come shopping with you or have a small vegetable garden you use for produce, the more kids are involved with the food, the more likely they’ll be to eat it.

  • Breakfast it the most important meal of the day. Sound cliche? It is, but it’s also true. Kids who eat a balanced breakfast are less likely to be starving when they reach lunch, and thus more likely to eat sensibly.

  • Sugar-rich, carbonated sodas like Coke and Pepsi are nutritional disasters. Like candy, they pump kids full of empty calories yet don’t leave them full. It’s estimated that between 15% and 20% of a child’s daily caloric intake can come from pop. Cutting it out can do wonders. Recent studies have found that schools that removed soda vending machines from campus saw a drop in student obesity levels. Also be on the lookout for so-called sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade that are popular among school age kids. Though they’re advertised with images of athletes and physical fitness, most are little more than sugar water and have the same drawbacks as soda.

  • Exercise is just as important as eating right, but between cable TV, video games and the internet, getting your child moving can be even more difficult than getting them to eat their vegetables. Integrate activities that get the whole family exercising into your daily routine, like walking the dog, playing in a local park or riding bikes. Even if you’re stuck inside, there are options. Get silly - put on a CD and dance around the house. Even breaking out a board game is going to burn more calories than sitting in front of the TV.

  • Viewing certain foods - like desserts - as a reward can slant the way your child thinks about eating. "Don’t overvalue dessert by making vegetables the part of dinner that a child has to get through in order to get to his or her ice cream," says Thompson. If you try to give all the elements of a meal equal weight, your child will be much more likely to enjoy each part of it and in the long-term, have a more balanced diet.

Interested in learning more? Check out Overcoming Childhood Obesity at

Contact Louis Wittig at

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