Worried About Your Child’s Weight? Here's How to Prevent Obesity
If you’re a parent or caregiver who’s worried about your child’s weight, you’re not alone. The rate of obesity in children has skyrocketed in the United States over the last two decades and is now referred to as an “epidemic.” Today, more than a third of American children fall into the obese category. Due to multiple factors— including poor diets and a lack of exercise—that number is expected to continue increasing.
Obesity can affect every organ system of your child’s body, from the heart and lungs to the GI tract and liver. If left unchecked, obesity can cause numerous health complications, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, depression and anxiety. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help your child safely lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Here are some suggestions for preventing obesity.
Monitor Your Child’s Weight and BMI
Weight changes are a normal part of growing up. But if you notice your child is larger than their peers or growing out of clothing sizes too fast, set up an appointment with your child’s physician. It’s possible that their BMI (body mass index) percentile is too high, placing them in overweight or obese categories. While weight can be measured at home on a bathroom scale, determining BMI is more accurate and telling than just pounds alone.
By tracking your child’s size, you’ll be able to determine whether they’re getting enough physical activity. It also will help you evaluate the health and portion sizes of their diet. Just don’t wait for full-blown obesity and all of its complications — the earlier the intervention, the more effective it will be.
Change the Way Your Family Eats
Higher risks for childhood obesity can begin even before birth. Poor nutrition in pregnant women, mothers who are nursing, and infants and young children can set the course of a person’s weight-related health for the rest of their life. So, preventing and remedying obesity shouldn’t be thought of like fad dieting or simply changing the habits of one child. Instead, losing weight and staying healthy should be a long-term family effort.
The most important method for preventing obesity is to maintain a nutritious and well-balanced diet. When serving meals and snacks, consider the portions of food groups recommended by the “plate method.” For instance, half of a child’s intake should be made up of fruits and vegetables. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that kids eat at least 1½ cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables a day. It’s also crucial to remove sugary foods and beverages, like cookies and soda, from your family’s diet. Water, above all, is the best beverage, although milk in moderation is fine for growing kids.
Remember that your children constantly look to you for cues about how to behave, including how to eat. So, parents who regularly engage in unhealthy eating habits can inadvertently increase the risk of obesity in even the youngest of children.
Engage in Daily Exercise with Your Children
Exercise is another key to helping your child lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight. At least one hour a day of physical activity is recommended. Any activity that will get a child’s heart rate up will do, including going for a long walk in the park, participating in active play (tag, kickball, hide and seek), riding bikes or other stimulating activities.
If you’re having trouble getting your child motivated to move and play, evaluate your own activity level. Getting involved in your child’s exercise will improve your health and get them more engaged, too. Staying active as a family is a great way to establish healthy routines that your children can continue throughout their lives.
A vital part of that is limiting their screen time, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Why? Time in front of a digital device is time taken away from physical activity. Be a role model for your kids and put your phone away, especially during family meals and outdoor activities.
Overall, weight issues in children shouldn’t be overlooked. If left unchecked, obesity is a condition that kids are statistically likely to carry into adulthood. Above all else, it’s important to remember that children are a product of their environment. What they see, they will adopt. Parents who work to remain health conscious will provide an environment for their child to develop the same healthy habits.
Learn More About How to Improve Your Child's Health
Directed toward children and families who are at risk for obesity, the Healthy Lifestyles Program at the Center for Digestive Health and Nutrition offers a family-centered approach that concentrates on evaluating and managing the medical complications that correlate with obesity.Learn More