My 8-year-old daughter recently visited our pediatrician because it was time for a flu shot. Aside from being vaccinated, it was also her time to get a physical check-up. One of the concerns raised during the consultation was her weight—she currently weighs 93 pounds (42 kgs) and measures 4’9″ (145 centimeters) in height.
According to our doctor, it isn’t an alarming issue, but she has been encouraged to eat healthier and engage daily in some physical activities while inside the house. This got me wondering what a healthy diet for kids really is. What are the best ways to help kids when they need to lose weight?
Understanding childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition where a child or an adolescent weighs above what is normal and recommended for their age and height.
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure used to determine if a child is overweight or obese. It’s important to know that BMI doesn’t measure body fat directly; rather, it is age- and sex-specific. BMI is often interpreted and expressed differently in children and teens relative to peers of the same sex. The CDC growth charts serve as a guide to determine the growth pattern of children and adolescents in the United States.
In a childhood obesity study done in 2018, around 19.3% of participants were categorized as obese. Apparently, childhood obesity is more common among children and adolescents aged 12-19 (21.2%), the proportion edging down slightly (20.3%) among children aged 6-11.
Childhood obesity paves the way for health complications such as hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, respiratory issues, and certain cancers later in life. Research shows that when your child is overweight, they are more likely to become overweight adults.
Causes of childhood obesity and excess weight
Many factors come into play here. Aside from your child’s genetic makeup, their lifestyle (including their diet and physical activities) can be a reason for problems with weight.
To give you a clearer picture, here are some of the causes of obesity and excess weight among children:
- Excessive drinking of beverages with high sugar content, such as soda and processed juices
- Binging on junk food (chips, pastries, candy, etc.)
- Consuming large portions instead of having small frequent meals
- Neglecting regular workouts or any form of exercise
- Being unable to go out of the house due to health or safety reasons, which can limit physical activities
- Growing up in a household where food is used as a reward, a control mechanism, or even part of family interactions
- Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders
Helping an overweight child goes beyond restricting the amount of food they consume because it’s not just about what they eat and drink daily. Focus on the factors and how to prevent childhood obesity early on—as they say, prevention is always better than cure.
What can I do if my child is overweight?
Prevention is great, but what if your child is already on the heavy side? What is the best way to help them lose weight the healthy way? Is there really a way to help kids lose weight without them feeling hungry?
How your child gains weight is very similar to how you gain weight as an adult. As with yourself, you wouldn’t want your child to be in a situation where their health is compromised because of excess weight. That said, handling an overweight child or teen needs an entirely different approach. While you can help your young kid decide on the different ways to lose weight, your teenager may want to choose how to lose the extra weight on their own.
If you have a teenager, they may turn to weight-loss fads to quickly lose those extra pounds. If so, be wary of the risks because these can do more harm than good in the long run. Fad diets don’t deliver long-term and healthy results because they will deprive your teenager of the nutrients they still need at their age. Here are the main things to keep in mind with regard to fad diets:
- They assure you of fast results.
- They advertise food that needs to be consumed in order to lose the extra weight.
- They severely restrict intake of certain food groups, for example, carbohydrates or proteins.
- They have a strict protocol that focuses on how much weight is lost.
Whether you have a young child or a teenager struggling with excess weight, it’s important to be a part of their weight-loss journey. Your guidance and support can definitely help boost their morale, especially when confidence is low because of their physical appearance.
How to help overweight children lose weight
Go for healthy means of losing weight, and yes, there is a right way of doing it. Your child can lose excess weight without sacrificing the important nutrients they need while growing up. You may consider talking to a dietician as they know what should be included and eliminated to ensure safe weight loss.
Here are some tips to help your child or teenager shed those extra pounds:
- Serve balanced meals. The meal plan should include vegetables and fruit, healthy carbs in the form of bread, rice, or pasta, lean meat, fish, and some calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Keep your child hydrated. Make sure your kid drinks plenty of water and ditches those sugary beverages. Water does wonders for your child’s body, so it’s important to see that they drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
- Choose food that is low in salt and limit saturated fat. Opt for healthier alternatives as much as possible and be sure to check the nutritional value of the food you are giving your child.
- Encourage physical activity every day. An hour of moderately intense exercise is recommended, including daily aerobic activities (walking, running, or even dancing), muscle strengthening exercises (for example, rope climbing or games like tug-of-war), and bone-strengthening activities (basketball, volleyball, or tennis).
- Be sure to listen to your child. Talking to your child during their weight-loss journey is an important part of their mental health. You may not notice it, but they could be feeling pressured not only because you want them to lose weight but also by media messages and their peers.
- Encourage your child. It is crucial to encourage your child to lose weight in the safest way possible. They may want to shed the extra pounds in an instant, but it’s always better to do things slowly.
Have a conversation
My daughter and I sat down and talked about how we should deal with her weight. I encouraged her to lose weight healthily and made sure she felt under no pressure whatsoever because I didn’t want any of it to affect her self-esteem and confidence in the long run. After all, I was in the same situation growing up, and I wouldn’t want my daughter to feel that her body image is the most significant part of her being.