IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM
The term “overweight” refers to a child with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile for his or her age and gender; “obese” refers to those above the 95th percentile.
The immediate and long-term medical issues that overweight/obese children are experiencing were once associated only with adults: Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, liver disease, joint stress, sleep apnea, skin infections. Now these very adult problems are reducing the quality and quantity of childhood years for many young individuals.
When obese children become obese adults, they continue to face medical issues such as hypertension, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, dementia and endometrial/breast/colon cancer. As a result, an obese 40-year-old can expect to die 3 – 7 years earlier than their peers of normal weight.
Everything starts with you and starts at home. Don’t sweep problems under the rug and expect your child to “grow into their body.” And if you notice symptoms of health issues, even things that may seem unrelated, keep a list of the symptoms and make an appointment with your family doctor or pediatrician right away.
- Bring a list of questions with you to the appointment and be sure to ask them.
- If you’ve been keeping track of your child’s height and weight, bring that information with you too, along with the same information for all your other children.
- Keep track of a typical week’s worth of meals your child eats and share that information with the doctor. Also share the level of activity your child engages in regularly.
- Ask if the doctor will want to measure your child’s fasting blood sugar or cholesterol levels during the exam, and plan accordingly.
Your doctor may put children over the age of 2 and adolescents who fall into the “overweight” category on a program to slow their weight gain as they add height, bringing their BMI-for-age to a healthier range. For children ages 6 – 11, this may mean a loss of about 1 pound a month, and up to 2 pounds a week for older and more severely obese kids.
You can also make small, calculated changes in the food you serve at home to stem the tide:
- Cut back on convenience foods (cookies, crackers, prepared meals) and stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat/low-sugar healthy snacks. If there’s only healthy food to reach for, that’s what they’ll eat.
- Reduce fruit juices and other sweetened drinks and increase water.
- Cut back on – even better, cut out – fast food.
- Serve smaller portions to everyone, and let kids leave food on their plate when they feel full.
- Sit together at a table to eat meals, focusing solely on the food and the company. If you can’t eat together, encourage kids to sit at a table to eat, without any screens to distract them.
BUST A MOVE
Kids need physical activity to build stronger bones and to sleep well at night. Getting them used to moving and being active, either on their own or in organized settings, is a gift you can give them for life.
Your attitude is the most important element in helping your overweight child overcome the challenges ahead. Be sensitive to their feelings as they make changes, and let them choose the rate of change they make. If you push too hard, your efforts could turn into their resentment. Ask them to share their feelings and listen without judgment. Teach them to set goals and reach them. Praise their efforts and celebrate when they reach a goal with a trip to the park or zoo or skating rink, not with food. Above all, be patient as you take this journey to better health together.
- Teach kids to self-limit their screen time to 2 hours a day. Let them pick how they spend the time, but be sure it’s limited. Also ask them to cut back on texting, gaming, talking on the phone and other sedentary activities. Make them responsible for this change, and hold them accountable to it.
- Be active together by walking around the neighborhood, hiking at a nature area, biking to the library, church or school, or walking the dog regularly.
- Shoot for getting your child moderately to vigorously active one hour every day – whether it’s on a playground, in a sport, or jumping rope in the yard.
CHANGE TOMORROW TODAY
When you’re older (don’t you love it when adults start a sentence this way?), you may do a little mental exercise of “what lessons do you wish you could teach your teenage self?” Since you’re your teenage self now, wouldn’t it be great if you could just do the right things starting right now?
Among the things adults wish they had done in their youth was to take better care of their bodies – from eating smarter to making exercise a daily routine.
So here’s your chance to get into a time machine and change your future by altering the now.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
For the first time in history, your generation may live fewer years than your parents. That’s because so many children and teens are overweight and inactive, which can lead to serious medical problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, liver disease and more.
That’s just the physical complications of not taking care of your body. Among the psychological issues are social isolation, depression, high levels of stress or anxiety, and learning difficulties.
HOW TO CHANGE HISTORY
What you put in your mouth matters. It’s that simple.
- Exchange sugary soda and energy drinks for water. Squeeze some lemon or lime into it if you need some flavor. Drink diet sodas in moderation to avoid chemicals.
- Swap fried foods for baked, roasted or grilled foods.
- Grab crunchy raw vegetables instead of greasy chips.
- Go for the “eat out of hand” fruits, such as apples, pears, plums and grapes.
- Point to the chicken or fish instead of the pork and beef.
- Choose smaller portions of “treat” foods like ice cream, cookies and candy.
- Move up to whole grain breads, low-fat milk and yogurt, and low-sugar cereals.
- Don’t “supersize” it.
LEARN TO MOVE MORE AND SIT LESS
This one change can make a major impact in your overall long-term health.
- Take the stairs when you can. It won’t take any longer than waiting for an elevator or standing on an escalator, and you’ll have gotten a good mini workout. Going up stairs is like lifting weights (you’re hoisting your body weight up each step) and going down will improve your balance.
- Walk or bike, don’t drive or be driven. Whenever possible and safe, walk or bike to your destination and you’ll feel the wind in your hair and see the sites along the way. Yeah, and expend some calories too.
- Join a sports team or league and get the coaching and encouragement that comes with it. You may discover hidden skills and talents as well as a deep love of a game you can play for a lifetime. And even if you’re not the best at it, at least you’re working at it.