The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 17 percent of all U.S. children between the ages of two and 19 are obese. That rate has tripled since 1980. Children with unhealthy weights have higher blood pressure, breathing problems, increased risks of diabetes and a higher chance of getting heart disease as adults. Add to that the social stigma and problems with self-esteem that plague overweight and obese children, and the problem intensifies. Losing weight is a great way for a heavy child to begin looking and feeling better.
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Make it About Health
Have your child examined by a pediatrician before you begin any weight-loss program. Your doctor will probably measure your child's body mass index (BMI) to establish whether or not he needs to lose weight. If his BMI is in the 85th percentile for your child's age and height, weight loss will be recommended. Talk to your pediatrician about a reasonable weight-loss goal for your child. When you discuss weight loss with your child, it helps to emphasize improving health instead of dieting. It's best to avoid making your child feel bad about his body and you will have a better shot at success if you can establish a positive tone instead of a negative one.
Better Food Choices
Eliminate foods that are high in fat and sugar and reduce your child's overall caloric intake. Avoid fast food restaurants and choose fresh, whole foods instead of packaged and processed foods whenever you can. Keep the kitchen stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins so meal and snack times include healthful choices. Encourage your child to snack as much as he wants; just make sure he is eating foods like grapes, apples, berries, carrots, low-fat cheese sticks and low-fat popcorn instead of candy and cookies. Pack your child's lunch for school instead of ordering the hot lunch. School lunches are often high in calories, sodium and fat.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have no more than one or two hours of screen time (television, video games, computers). More physical activity and less time on the couch keeps kids healthier. Exercise will help your child lose the appropriate amount of weight, but it shouldn't feel like work for your little one. Walk to school instead of driving, if it's practical. Encourage your child to play sports in school or in a local recreational league. If team sports make your child uncomfortable, suggest a dance class or join the local YMCA for swimming and other athletic opportunities.
Setting an Example
Even if you don't need to lose weight yourself, showing your child how to eat healthfully and exercise will have a positive impact. Drink water instead of soda and juice, eat a wholesome diet, teach your child how to cook, start a vegetable garden and exercise with your child. Make healthy living a family activity. Track your child's weight loss and celebrate the victories. When your child reaches his weight-loss goal, come up with a reward: go shopping for new clothes or splurge on the new bike he's been wanting.