I’m glad you raised this issue. As you may know, many parents do not recognize that their kids have weight problems. A study published in the March, 2014, issue of the journal Pediatrics found that 51 percent of parents of overweight or obese children thought their child’s weight was normal. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. In 2012 (the last year for which complete statistics are available), more than one third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.
I discussed the issue of weight loss for children with Sandy Newmark, M.D., a pediatrician at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in San Francisco. Dr. Newmark suggests that before considering a weight loss program for your son, you should check with his pediatrician to make sure he really is overweight. If the pediatrician agrees that your son should lose some weight, Dr. Newmark advises focusing on providing a healthy diet without added sugar. The key to this is to give your child whole foods with lots of fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, and healthy fats. In addition, Dr. Newmark recommends the following measures:
- Make sure your son isn’t drinking a lot of soda or too much fruit juice. (It is a concentrated sugar source that can promote insulin resistance and obesity when consumed in quantity.)
- Avoid too many processed carbohydrates (such as snack foods, white bread, sweetened drinks, and sugary desserts).
- Limit fast food meals and snacks.
- Don’t substitute non-nutritive sweeteners for sugar (whether natural or artificial).
If your child is a toddler, Dr. Newmark says he wouldn’t try to limit how much he eats unless he clearly has an unusual appetite. He also recommends encouraging physical activity by giving your son plenty of time outdoors and restricting television time.
In addition to Dr. Newmark’s recommendations, I suggest the following measures that may help parents deal with weight problems in kids of any age:
- Eat meals together. This will give you more control over the food your children eat. Family mealtimes also give parents the opportunity to find out what their kids are concerned about in their day-to-day, allowing them to better address any stress that might underlie emotional eating.
- Learn about differences between good and bad fats and good and bad carbohydrates.
- Try to make daily physical exercise a family activity.
- In addition to limiting TV time, try to curb total screen time, including playing video games and using the computer.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Childhood Obesity Facts, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July 15, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
Overweight in Children, American Heart Association, accessed July 15, 2014, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/Overweight-in-Children_UCM_304054_Article.jsp