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Helping Your Overweight Child

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults aren't the only ones at risk for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases—kids are too. More and more children of all ages are overweight than ever before. As a result, weight-related health problems that are typically found in adults are becoming more common in our kids. Overweight children are at risk for diseases that will affect them in childhood, such as Type 2 (formerly called "adult-onset") diabetes, and for health issues that they'll face as adults if they don't lose weight. By reducing your overweight child's weight gain now, or helping him lose weight by eating healthy foods and becoming active, you can lower his risk of developing several serious conditions, including:
  • Diseases that can occur in childhood, including asthma, breathing problems, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, liver and gallbladder diseases, sleep apnea (cessation of breathing during sleep) and more.
  • Long-term diseases that occur in adulthood, including cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), heart failure, respiratory problems, certain cancers, infertility and pregnancy complications, arthritis, and higher risk for sudden death.
Helping Your Overweight Child
If you think your child is overweight, check with his doctor to help you evaluate your child's weight and develop a family action plan for weight management. The doctor may refer your child to see a dietitian who can help your child meet his nutrition goals. Typically, professionals will recommend one of three weight management options:
  1. Slowing down the rate at which your child is gaining weight
  2. Stopping your child from gaining weight (weight maintenance)
  3. Losing excess weight
When children are involved, any weight loss program should be monitored by professionals, such as a doctor and dietitian. When changing your family's lifestyle to emphasize healthy, long-term lifestyle changes, be sure to avoid:
  • Fad diets and quick fixes—these usually result in unsafe, short-term weight loss.
  • Programs designed for adults—most commercial programs (including SparkPeople) are not appropriate for children.
  • Weight loss camps and clinics—even though these are marketed to children, they often promise unrealistic results.
Getting Healthy as a Family
Besides knowing what to avoid, what should you be certain to do? Kids look to their parents to help them learn to be healthy. If you're not sure how to help your family live a healthier life, follow these tips, developed by the AHA.
  • Set specific goals and realistic limits. Don't push your kids too far or emphasize winning. Kids need time to be kids too, and shouldn't feel pressure to stay involved in activities or excessively train for a sport. If goals or limits are drastic, you're setting your child up for failure. Discover your child's fitness needs.
  • Find new ways to celebrate good behavior. Our culture has enough celebrations that focus on food. Rewarding kids with food teaches them to turn to food for reasons other than hunger and nutrition. Reward your child with praise, a new toy, a fun outing, or some special "Mom" or "Dad" time together.
  • Make dinnertime a family time. Families who eat meals together at home consume more nutrients and less junk. Plus, it's a chance for the whole family to connect, bond, and learn from each other. Get eight reasons why you should eat together as a family.
  • Make a game of reading food labels. Understanding food labels is an important skill for everyone to know. After learning how to as a family, challenge each other during your shopping trips to find the healthiest bread, cereal, snacks and more. Here's a quick lesson in reading a nutrition label.
  • Be an advocate for healthier children. Not every family has access to the health information that you do, and only through advocacy and support can other people benefit from your knowledge and skills. Get involved with planning the school's lunches, snacks, or physical activity requirements, for example. The article "Fight for Your Food Rights" discusses these ideas.
Remember that as a parent, it's on you to teach your kids the things that they won't learn in school or on their own. You are a mentor, a guide, and an inspiration! Getting healthy should be a family activity that everyone participates in together.
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Member Comments

Good Article Nicole. Thanks Report
Thanks for the article. Report
Thanks Report
I was an overweight child. When I was 8 years old, the pediatrician told my parents I was 20 lbs over my normal weight. And then started the battle! Report
Good read. Good need-to-know information! Thanks! Report
(friendly reminder-might want to refrain from sharing the flaws of other people's children and their bad habits on a public forum, sometimes we don't need to know the WHO and a more general approach would probably be better. You never know when that person might join spark and come across the comments they were referenced in. That would be painful and embarrassing to know they were used as a bad example.) Report
This is a hard topic to tackle. I try to encourage my children to be active and eat right and the more I do, the more they go the opposite direction. Report
Thanks Report
Good article Report
Good article. Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
thanks Report
We just started a diet as a family and my 9 yr old who weighed 77 is now down to 71.. she has knocked herself out of the overweight range and into the 'normal' weight bmi now. I still have a road to go, but i'm also down 21 pounds doing keto. she is soo stinkin' proud of herself and wants to go down about 5 more pounds still. We have been doing this together after speaking to her doctor who was on board with us going on a low carb diet with her and walking in the evenings. She no longer eats huge amounts of foods, eats no bread/grain and we both work towards our fruit being our treat once a day. She has loved every keto veggie filled meal and so for her the weight is just melting off effortlessly as she would put it. I'm not sure if keto diets are right for every kid but for mine it's working. The only thing we have changed is that I tell her she is a kid and a little bit of treats here and there when at a party or with friends is fine.. just portion control and only eat til you are full. Today at a bday party she asked for a small piece of cake and didn't even finish it! Report
My son is 16 and just starting his junior year in high school. He is under the impression that he is over weight. My family has attempted to explain to him, that with him being almost 6 ft. tall, he appears to be the average size for his age.
There are no unhealthy snacks in our home and he walks to school and home everyday.
I am not sure what to tell him to assist his concerns. Report
This article had a lot of common sense tips..but nothing about the importance of making sure your child knows that losing weight isn't about trying to look good or look acceptable to society. Kids are bombarded with messages about how being fat is the worst possible thing a person can become. No doubt there are big health risks that come from being fat but there are a lot of risks from kids having a negative body image and thinking their worth depends on a number on the scale. I was hoping this article would touch on that but it did not. Quite the disappointment! Report
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.