For parents of children with weight problems, it can be a confusing situation. Should you restrict their food or just leave well enough alone and hope they grow out of it? The key is to help your children adopt healthful habits that will stay with them through life.
Childhood weight problems often carry over into adulthood, and overweight adults are at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Worse, conditions once associated only with adults, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a major risk factor for stroke and heart attacks), are now increasingly being found in some children and adolescents.
Several factors may be to blame. In rare cases, a medical problem may be the cause. If you suspect your child has a weight problem or is developing one, take him to the doctor for a full exam.
The most common factors in childhood obesity may include the following:
Experts blame too much television, computer time, and video games, which take away time from doing physical activity.
Today's time-pressed families are relying more and more on convenience foods and fast foods, many of which are high in calories, especially from carbohydrates. High fat intake from burgers, fries, and pizza plays a role, but many kids are also gulping down hundreds of calories a day in the form of sodas, sports drinks, and sweetened juice drinks.
Overly-large serving portions at both restaurants and at home have also likely played a role. Additionally, many schools may not provide healthy lunches.
Research has shown that children with overweight parents and/or siblings are more likely to be overweight themselves. While genes may play a role, it may also be that parents pass on unhealthful behaviors and habits to their children.
The best advice for parents is to help your kids eat healthfully, be active, and build self-esteem.
Here are some dos and don'ts to help you:
The best advice for any family is to eat and enjoy healthful food together and to exercise together. Kids who learn healthful behaviors as part of a family lifestyle are much more likely to continue those healthful habits throughout their lives.
American Academy of Family Physicians
Weight-control Information Network
Canada's Food Guide
Dietitians of Canada
Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html. Updated June 7, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.
Obesity in children and adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 16, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.
NHLBI integrated guidelines for pediatric cardiovascular risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated February 28, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.
Obesity and overweight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/. Updated May 24, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.
Thomas H. Obesity prevention programs for children and youth: Why are their results so modest? Health Educ Res. 2006;21:783-95. Epub 2006 Nov 10.
10/8/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Laurson KR, Eisenmann JC, Welk GJ, Wickel EE, Gentile Da, Walsh DA. Combined influence of physical activity and screen time recommendations on childhood overweight. J Pediatr. 2008;153:209-214.
6/25/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Anderson SE, Whitaker RC. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125(3):420-428.
Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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