If you are concerned about your child’s weight, you’re not alone. Childhood obesity has risen dramatically in the last three decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By 2014, about 17 percent of children and adolescents – 12.7 million – were overweight or obese. And it’s not just a cosmetic issue: obesity increases the risk of health problems such as asthma, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Despite those concerns, it can be hard to help an overweight child. Just talking about weight can often make kids feel bad about themselves. On the one hand, you want to tell your children that they are beautiful just the way they are (which is true!), and that natural growth and development will help take care of some excess weight (also true). But on the other hand, you don’t want to ignore the problem in hopes it’ll just “go away.”
So how do you address your child’s weight without making him or her feel bad or focusing too much on the number on the scale? Start by helping your child develop healthy food and exercise habits. Here’s how:
1. Talk to your pediatrician. Children grow at different rates and it can sometimes be hard to tell if a child’s weight is a temporary problem, or an ongoing concern. A doctor can help calculate your child’s body mass index (BMI) and discuss what a healthy weight would be for his or her height and projected growth.
2. Get active. National guidelines recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Many parents rely on their child’s gym class or daily recess break to get their kids active, but often times these opportunities do not provide a full hour of physical activity. Help your child find activities he or she enjoys, such as dancing, swimming or roller-skating.
3. Make it a family affair. Don’t single out an overweight child. Healthy choices are important for everyone in the family, no matter how much they weigh. Model good choices of your own, and work together to plan and prepare healthy meals the whole family will like. Also, plan time for regular family activities such as hikes or bike rides.
4. Clean the pantry. It’s not fair to tempt children with cupboards full of processed snacks such as chips and cookies. Store them out of sight (or stop buying them altogether). Instead, stock up on healthy snacks such as fruits, whole-grain crackers and low-fat yogurt or cheese sticks. Prepare healthy snacks such as carrot sticks ahead of time so they’re easy to grab when your child craves a snack.
5. Watch portions. Instead of offering a big plate from the outset, serve smaller portions and let your child ask for seconds if he or she is still hungry. When eating packaged foods, help your child learn to read nutrition labels to see what amount counts as one serving.
6. Nix soda. Soda – as well as juice drinks, sweetened iced tea and sports drinks – are a big source of empty calories for many kids. Instead, offer water, low-fat milk or seltzer sweetened with a bit of fruit juice. For younger children, try offering the new drink in a fancy glass or adding a fun twisty straw to get them excited about the switch.
7. Sit down. As much as possible, try to gather for family meals around the table instead of stopping for fast food or munching while distracted in front of the TV. You’ll have a chance to serve more balanced meals and model good eating habits.
For more healthy eating tips, read about healthy diets for children.
Tags: adolescents, asthma, balanced meals, BMI, body mass index, childhood obesity, children, Children’s Health, diabetes, exercise habits, healthy food, healthy meals, healthy snacks, healthy weight, heart disease, nutrition, nutrition labels, obesity, overweight, Pediatrics, physical activity, type 2 diabetes, weight loss, Wellness