Overweight children: What parents can do
Childhood obesity has become an increasing concern for parents.
The rate of overweight in the United States has more than doubled for preschoolers and adolescents over the past 30 years, and it has more than tripled for children ages 6 to 11. Overweight children get a head start on health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and sometimes low self-esteem and depression resulting from social discrimination.
A child being overweight is generally caused by lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle both playing important roles in determining a child's weight. Children are moving around too little as a result of too much screen time, including television, computers and video games. Almost half of children aged 8 to 16 years watch three to five hours of television a day.
As a parent, you can help your children improve their physical condition. Even small changes can make a big difference in your familyís overall health.
More physical activity
Limit TV time to less than 2
hours a day.
Plan family activities that
provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment. For example, go hiking or
biking, wash the car, or walk around a mall. Be sensitive to your childís
feelings. Find activities that arenít difficult or could cause
Provide a safe environment for your children and their friends to play actively.
Healthy eating tips
Encourage your children to eat
when hungry and to eat slowly.
Eat meals together as a family
as often as possible. Donít eat or snack while watching television.
Avoid the use of food as a
Avoid withholding food as
Do not place your child on a
restrictive diet. Overweight children are still growing and will not need to
lose weight, but the goal is to reduce their rate of weight gain.
Encourage your children to drink
water and to limit the intake of soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, and sports
drinks since they are high in added sugars.
Involve your children in meal
planning and grocery shopping.
Plan for healthy snacks like
fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables; low-fat cheese, yogurt or
ice cream; frozen fruit juice bars; and cookies such as fig bars, graham
crackers, gingersnaps or vanilla wafers.
Carefully cut down on the amount
of fat and calories in your familyís diet by selecting recipes and methods
of cooking that are lower in fat. For example, bake chicken instead of
Aim to eat a variety of fruits,
vegetables and whole grains each day: green and yellow vegetables, fruits of
various colors, and whole-grain breads.
Always serve a healthy breakfast.
Importance of your support
Overweight children probably know better than anyone else that they have a weight problem. Let your child know he or she is loved and appreciated, whatever his or her weight. Be a good role model. If concerned your child may be overweight, talk with the doctor.
For more information, visit www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines
Damaris Karanja, MA
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist