Childhood obesity – tips for healthy, family focused change

Childhood obesity is a problem that many families face. As a parent, sometimes it can be hard to admit when our children are overweight. But it is important to recognize what is happening and start taking steps to help our children live and grow into healthier lives. Your most trusted resource should be your pediatrician. They can first, help you know if your child is obese, and second, help you create a healthier environment for him or her to grown in.

Here are some things you can keep in mind to make sure your child is getting what they need to stay healthy and either avoid or grow out of obesity.

Don’t assume your child is overweight

Young children can have all sorts of different heights and weights and often have growth spirts at different times. Don’t automatically assume your child is overweight. Make sure you talk to your doctor about his or her weight. They will be able to tell you if it is normal, or if obesity is an issue.

Don’t focus on weight loss – focus on health

Unless your doctor gives you a specific diet to use with your child, it’s usually not the best way to go. Children still need energy and nutrition for growth and development, so a strict diet can often do harm. For most children, the focus should be on healthy eating and physical activity in order to maintain a current weight, while the child grows normally. Let me make sure it’s clear that this doesn’t mean they can continue eating unhealthy foods in large quantities. It just means that kids shouldn’t diet like adults. It needs to be done in a different way.

The goal should be good health, not a specific weight. You should be teaching and modeling positive attitudes towards food and physical activity without talking about weight. This way it doesn’t come off as shaming, but rather as a good, healthy, fun way to live.

Healthy meals and snacks

Make sure you are giving your children healthy meals and snacks at the right portions. The Food Guide Pyramid and Dietary Guidelines can help you plan portions and understand which foods are healthy and provide the nutrients they need. Try to limit calories from fats and sweets like juices, chips, candy, or cookies, and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats. Don’t forget, it’s ok to have sweets and treats once in a while, just don’t let it become a normal or daily affair.

If you can, involve your kids in planning and preparing meals and snacks. It helps them learn about nutrition and feel proud of the food and meals they are eating.

Get moving

Limit the amount of time your children spend playing video games, on the computer or watching television. Encourage them to get outside and play with friends or better yet, plan family activities like daily walks, bike rides or hikes to get the whole family involved. The more activity you do with your kids the more they will feel supported!

Make it a family affair

The family should be at the center of all these healthy changes! Don’t separate out your overweight children. Involve the whole family in the changes and work, little by little, to change your habits together. Remember, what you eat and how you act is very important. Kids follow the footsteps of their parents, they copy what they see. Make sure you are a healthy, active example for your kids to follow. Plus, preparing food, eating and doing healthy activities together will only bring you closer and increase your time together as a family.

Authored by: Dr. Emilia Arana, Director of Pediatrics at Sixteenth Street

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