Childhood obesity has not yet approached epidemic proportion but for a growing number of youngsters, it is a serious problem. And one that involves more than just simple schoolyard vanity. Excess weight in childhood is likely to be carried over into adulthood, studies show, and it will predispose children to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other obesity-related chronic illness. That’s why it’s important to act early, to ensure a lifetime of optimum health.
But take note: Kids are not just small adults, and slimming them down takes a special approach that’s safe for their growing bodies. The first step is recognizing what’s causing the problem. Some people think it starts with heredity. It’s a controversial question as it how much heredity actually contributes to the problem. But here’s the important point:
Even if a child caries genes that create a tendency toward obesity, major environmental factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle and a high-fat diet must be in effect for obesity to take hold. There are plenty of fat-prone kids out there who never get fat because they practice good health habits.
Taking Action For Overweight Kids
Before you do anything, though, it’s critical to get your pediatrician’s advice. While you may think your child is overweight compared to his or her friends or siblings, children vary. A doctor can provide an objective assessment and determine how serious the problem is – or if there really is a problem at all.
If the child is overweight, restricting calories until the child loses weight is, at best, impractical, and at worst, potentially dangerous. What overweight children need is a flexible, low-fat eating plan to follow, in which portion size and between-meal snacking are kept to moderate level.
But an eating plan isn’t the only answer or even the most important, necessarily. The number-one cause of childhood obesity may well be a sedentary lifestyle. Children – especially children of affluent or even middle-class parents – have, like many adults, become couch potatoes. Getting your kids moving again should be your top priority.
Implementing Diet Plan For Overweight Kids
By now it should be obvious that, in most cases, when a child is overweight, the whole family is going to have to make changes. The greatest influence on a child’s health is his parents. Children learn what they see. If the parents’ eating and exercise habits are poor, the child’s will probably be lacking, too. Start by assessing your family’s activity level.
On the food front, the first thing you need to do is look inward. In your refrigerator. In your kitchen cabinets. In your oven. Are you really buying and preparing low-fat, high-fiber foods? Are the cabinets clear of fatty chips and has your freezer been declared an ice-cream-free zone?
At home, move the focus away from food. When the family gathers to play games or talk, do it away from the dining room and the kitchen. Make a new rule no eating anywhere in the house except at the dining table. Everyone has to abide by this rule, including the grown-ups.
But a word of caution: too much focus on a child’s weight might lead to eating disorders. Over half of the people who develop eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, can trace it an episode of dieting. That’s why it’s very important that you never use food as reward or punishment. That’s a dangerous strategy that can lead youngsters to seek comfort in food.
Counselling for Overweight Kids
If a child’s weight problem continues, both the parents and child may need counselling – separately. Separately because you need to learn different things. Parents must learn how to encourage good habits without nagging or unwittingly encouraging eating disorders. If both parents are working, they may need to learn how to fit healthy meal preparation into a busy schedule.
The children need to learn new eating habits and to enjoy physical activity. But remember: Any formal program for overweight children and their families should focus on appropriate behavior and healthy foods, not on dieting and calorie counting.
Only if a child’s obesity is severe should weight loss be on the agenda? And that should be initiated only after weight gain has stopped, and after the entire family is eating healthy foods. Then you can explore with a physician a safe way for a child to lose 5 to 10 per cent maximum of weight at the rate of half to one kg a week, over five or six weeks.
Weight loss should then stop, and children should stay at that level for several months before losing any more if indeed they still need to lose. Weight-loss diets for children must be constructed carefully by pediatricians and should always include a 10 percent increase in physical activity.