Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P
Do you know any overweight kids? Nowadays, it is hard not to. Let me give you a typical scenario:
A young school age child, 6 years or so, weights about 100lbs. That is well above the 90%ile. Often lab work is done which is all normal - thyroid tests, hormones tests, urine tests. And, often other kids in the family are not overweight but that is not always the case - often overweight kids are members of an overweight family.
Whether people eat our or eat in and cook naturally, being overweight is always a combination of too much food and too little activity, at any age. So, how do you help a child like this? I find it useful to not look back but look ahead. Many factors lead to a child's current weight but those are not as important as what steps you tackle to help the child get to a normal weight. Young kids have a fast metabolism and growth on their side. That will gives kids an advantage in tackling weight problems as opposed to an older teen or adult whose growth has already stopped.
If you look at a growth curve, you'll see the child I used as the example is indeed above the 90%ile line. However, this child only has to lose a moderate amount then maintain to be at a healthy weight over time. In fact, even if she maintains her current weight, she'll be at a normal weight in a few years. That can be very reassuring to consider when attepting to help young kids become mroe healthy.
It is always wise to tackle the problem as soon as you discover it because the longer a person is overweight the more problems they have as adults including high blood pressure, back problems, cholesterol problems, diabetes and heart disease. Many of these problems will occur if the weight is not controlled but can be prevented if the weight is controlled.
With kids, you'll be more successfull focusing on healthy living as oppose to dieting. Embedded in this goal needs to be the message of moderation. None of us are 100% healthy and part of being a child is learning how to balance having a sugary of fatty treat with a healthy lifestyle. It can be done!
As for exercise, daily movement is important. Keep the activity fun and part of a peer group or the family to help the child feel more part of the group.
Donít forget hydration as part of nutrition. Kids sometimes mistaken thirst for hunger so make sure she is drinking enough water. You can get her flavored water instead of juice if she needs something sweeter. For food, the goal is moderation and balance. What Iíd suggest is a positive reinforcement chart for food. See if you can get her to work with you on eating healthy during the school week and then on weekends be a bit more flexible and allow her to have some of her favorite foods. Sometimes allowing a sweet a day helps kids not crave them. You can find desserts that donít break the calorie bank such as Jello with low fat whipped cream, low fat pudding, 100 calorie pack cookies. And, go out to eat as a family once in a while. Learning to eat out is important for healthy living in general.
One final way to help an overweight child: work on self-esteem. The more positive you are, the better she will feel and the more successful youíll be in helping her become healthy Ė and stay that way for a lifetime.