Obesity has become America's #1 health risk. More than 15% of American teens are overweight. Your child is overweight if:
Obesity is defined as a weight per height ratio (body mass index or BMI) that is above the 95th percentile (a BMI over 25 for teens). Obesity occurs in 10% of American children ages 2 to 5 and in 17% of those ages 6 to 19.
The tendency to be overweight is usually inherited. If one parent is overweight, half of the children have the potential to be overweight. If both parents are overweight, most of their children have the overweight gene. If neither parent is overweight, the children have a small chance of being overweight.
Heredity alone (without overeating) accounts for most mild weight problems, Moderate weight problems are usually due to a combination of heredity, overeating, and inadequate exercising. Some overeating is normal in our society, but only those who have the inherited tendency to be overweight will gain significant weight when they overeat. The family environment (how much the family exercises and watches TV and what foods are served) is equally important.
Less than 1% of obesity has a medical cause. Your child's healthcare provider can determine whether your child's obesity has a physical cause with a physical exam and a review of your child's growth chart.
There are health risks as well as social problems that may occur in overweight children. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea from severe snoring, exercise intolerance, back pain, knee pain, lower self-esteem, and depression.
Losing weight is difficult. During the first 2 years of life, it is not healthy to lose weight, but slowing down the rate of weight gain is helpful. After age 2, anytime is a good time to start losing excessive weight. Under 5 years of age, the parents have control over what foods are served. Weight control is in the parents' hands. After age 5, weight loss is more difficult because children, especially teens, have access to many foods outside the home. The easiest time to lose weight is often when a child becomes concerned about her/his appearance and has the willpower to change to healthier eating. This may not happen until the teenage years.
Teenagers can increase their motivation by joining a weight-loss club such as TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) or Weight Watchers. Sometimes schools have classes for helping children lose weight. A child's motivation often can be improved if the whole family focuses on healthier eating and an exercise programs. A cooperative parent-child weight loss program with individual goals is usually more helpful than a competitive program focused on who can lose weight faster.
Self-esteem is more important than an ideal body weight. If your child is overweight, he is probably already disappointed in himself. He needs his family to support him and accept him as he is. A child's self-esteem can be reduced or destroyed by parents who become overconcerned about their child's weight. Avoid the following pitfalls:
Pick a realistic target weight dependent on your child's bone structure and how overweight your child is. The loss of 1/2 pound a week is usually an attainable goal for a teenager. However, your child will have to work hard to lose this much weight every week for several weeks. Your child should weigh himself no more than once each week. Daily weighings generate too much false hope or disappointment. When losing weight becomes a strain, have your child take a few weeks off from the weight-loss program. During this time, help your child stay at a constant weight.
Once your child has reached the target weight, the long-range goal is to try to stay within 5 pounds of that weight. Staying at a particular weight is possible only through a permanent moderation in eating. Your child will probably always have the tendency to gain weight easily and it's important that she understand this.
Your child should eat 3 well-balanced meals a day of average-sized portions. There are no forbidden foods. Your child can have a serving of anything family or friends are eating. However, there are forbidden portions. While your child is reducing, she must leave the table a bit hungry. Your child cannot lose weight if she eats until full. Encourage average portions instead of large portions and discourage seconds. Shortcuts such as fasting, crash dieting, or diet pills rarely work and may be dangerous. Liquid diets are safe only if they are used according to directions. Calorie counting is helpful for some people, but it is usually too time-consuming. Consider the following guidelines on what to eat and drink:
Most overeating is due to bad habits. To counteract the tendency to gain weight, your youngster must be taught eating habits that will last for a lifetime. You can help your child lose and keep off unwanted pounds by doing the following:
Daily physical activity can increase the rate of weight loss as well as the sense of physical well-being. The combination of healthy eating and physical activity is the most effective way to lose weight. Try the following forms of physical activity:
The more outside activities your child participates in, the easier it will be for her to lose weight. Spare time fosters nibbling. Most snacking occurs between 3 and 6 PM. Help your child fill after-school time with activities such as music, drama, sports, or scouts. A part-time job after school may help. If nothing else, encourage your child to call or visit friends. An active social life almost always leads to weight reduction.
Call during office hours if: