How to Help a Child Lose Weight
This article originally appeared in a health information newsletter
published by Clinton Hospital for members of the Greater Clinton community.
Overweight children and adolescents continue to be a growing, national health
problem. Experts estimate that approximately one child in five is overweight,
and the number of obese adolescents in this country has tripled in the last 30
An overweight child or adolescent is six times more likely to become an
overweight adult. The health and social implications of this statistic are truly
staggering. Being overweight is the second leading cause of preventable death
for adults. Excessive weight has been strongly linked to several chronic
diseases, including type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even
many forms of cancer. This does not even touch upon the often life-sapping
effects of low self-esteem from being overweight.
What can parents do if their child is overweight? It is important to identify
the problem as soon as possible. The earlier the problem is addressed, the
easier it is to control. In fact, in my pediatric practice, I often don't even
ask young children to lose weight, but rather just to maintain their weight or
at least slow down their weight gain. This is because children are still
growing, and many can "grow into" their weight. By eliminating just 100 calories
per day from a child's diet, you can slow down their weight gain by ten pounds
The first step is to look at beverages.
Soda and juice are extra calories that cause weight gain and do not relieve
hunger. Other milk, use only calorie-free beverages, like water, diet flavored
water or diet sodas. For snacks, use more fruits and fewer junk foods. A four
ounce bag of potato chips contains 600 calories while four ounces of
strawberries contain just 45 calories.
If cookies or chips are used for snacks, use portion control containers, like
one ounce bags of chips or the 100 calorie snack packs made by Nabisco.
Extremely low fat diets are often not tasty and prone to failure with
children and adolescents. Moderate fat reduction diets are usually more
successful. Pay close attention to "low fat" food labels. They often have the
same calories per serving as regular.
Almost any weight loss or weight control plan will fail if the child is
sedentary or inactive. It is not unusual for a child or adolescent to spend up
to eight hours a day with video games or television. Try to limit screen time to
one hour per day. A particularly effective strategy for increasing a child's
activity is for parents to take up a sport or pursuit that the child would also
enjoy, such as bike riding or tennis. Weight control in children is more
successful if the whole family participates in a healthier lifestyle, rather
than just focusing on the child.
These relatively small changes will go a long way toward helping most
overweight children. Healthy lifestyle habits begun early in life have a higher
likelihood of persisting into adulthood.