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Overweight Children: A Growing Problem

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Overweight in children has increased over the past few years. Ten years ago, 15 percent of children were overweight, and now 22 percent are. The increase can be found among preschoolers as well as older children. We know that the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease increases with overweight for adults, but even children can suffer the consequences of excess weight. Poor social interaction and self-esteem as well as hip and knee problems can result. We also know now that overweight children can be at risk for Type II diabetes, which used to be seen only in adults.

Overweight is usually not due to a medical problem. In no more than 1 out of 100 cases are hormonal or other abnormalities to blame. You may have heard the expression “A fat baby becomes a fat adult.” That’s not necessarily true: Some babies are fat at birth because of certain conditions in pregnancy and normalize their weight by the end of the first year. Pediatricians call this “catch-down growth.”

  It’s in Their Genes

  Simple Strategies to Try

It’s in Their Genes

Genetic factors appear to make the most difference. Several genes recently have been identified that affect appetite and metabolism. One obese parent creates a 50 percent risk that a child will be obese; two obese parents create a 66 percent chance. In fact, identical twins reared apart often end up with similar weight no matter what their adoptive parents’ body types. If overweight is an issue not only for your child but for you or your mate, address the problem as a family rather than focusing only on your child.

Make sure you are not interpreting normal baby chubbiness for obesity. If you think your child is overweight, ask your health care provider to review your child’s growth and weight-gain history and to look for signs of a medical problem that can be investigated.

Simple Strategies to Try

If your child does have a weight problem, there are some changes you can make in your child’s food choices and the choices of everyone in the family. The following are effective measures that can help your child reduce her weight and develop good eating habits for life.
  • Never put your child on a reducing diet. Before making any changes, consult a health care professional, because what your child needs for growth and development must not be sacrificed for weight loss. And in the long run, a change in lifestyle and eating patterns works better than a calorie-restricted diet anyway.
  • Carefully decrease total calories and fat. For starters, substitute baked tortilla chips for full-fat potato chips and skip the butter on the mashed potatoes.
  • Cut down on portion sizes, and if your child asks for a second helping, make it smaller than the first.
  • Use more fruits, vegetables, and grains and less oil, fat, meat, and eggs.
  • Reward your child’s achievements or good behavior with books or music, not with food.
  • Avoid keeping high-calorie, high-fat snacks in the pantry.

  • Continue to give your family occasional treats but buy only enough for one meal at a time.
  • Don’t deny your child food when she is hungry. Do offer her healthful choices when she asks—serve her raw vegetables or an apple rather than cookies or corn chips, for example.
  • Don’t make any food forbidden. Do show her how to balance a fat- or calorie-heavy food into a healthful diet.
  • For a child over 2, use skim milk or milk with just 1 percent fat.
  • Substantially reduce or eliminate your child’s intake of juice. It provides empty calories and actually creates thirst rather than quenching it.
  • Turn off the television. A recent study showed that merely decreasing the time spent in front of the TV—without any additional intervention—decreased children’s body fat.
  • Get active. Walk or bike together, take stairs rather than an elevator with your children, park far away from the mall entrance. The benefits of increased exercise have been shown in children as young as 4.
  • Protect your child’s self-esteem.
  • Avoid talking about your child’s weight or making negative comments about how she looks. Praise her abilities and keep her active.

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