Meredith Singer | HealthGreatness
There is no question that there are significantly more overweight and obese children today than ever before. With the popularity of sedentary activities (like video games, computers, etc.) and the lack of physical activity offerings in schools, children move less. Couple that with the plethora of unhealthy foods available, advertisements geared towards youth, and increasing portion sizes, it is no wonder that many of our children are at an unhealthy weight.
Obesity is defined in children as having a BMI at or above the 95th% for gender and age, and having excess body fat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are twice as many obese children and four times as many obese adolescents as there were 30 years ago.
How to manage
Weight management for children is a bit different than weight management for adults. Children grow at different times and rates. There is also varying amounts of body fat at different ages for both girls and boys. That is why CDC publishes Body Mass Index (BMI) charts specific for a child’s age and gender.
Parents are the most powerful weapons in the fight against childhood obesity. It is well known that children (and especially adolescents!) will mimic their parents’ behavior, good or bad. So, all of these weight management strategies for obese children are most effective when they are adopted by the whole family.
Keep on Moving
Children need a total of about an hour of physical activity each day. An hour of consecutive exercise is not necessary; multiple spurts of activity throughout the day are just as effective as one uninterrupted hour. Parents can do a number of things to encourage activity, such as:
- Set a good example by engaging in physical activity themselves;
- Plan fun activities to do as a family, such as hiking, biking, kicking a ball, shooting baskets, and jumping rope;
- Encourage participation in sports or non-competitive activities, depending on their interests;
- Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day.
Children have differing nutritional and caloric needs depending on their age and gender. It is important that they eat a wide variety of nutritious food on a regular basis to make sure these needs are met. Parents can encourage children and adolescents to choose wisely by taking steps to:
- Limit the amount of unhealthy snack foods and sodas that are kept in the house;
- Provide fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on;
- Plan and prepare healthy meals together as a family;
- Buy whole grain products;
- Pack healthy lunches for school;
- Limit fast-food meals.
The above weight management strategies can help not only obese children but help the whole family adopt a healthier lifestyle. When the family embraces the move and choose method, the children reap enormous benefits.
It is important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend fad diets for obese children. These highly restrictive diets deprive children of important nutrients they need for proper growth and development. Although it requires more effort to lose weight by embracing a healthier lifestyle, the benefits of these habits can last a lifetime. Remember: Move and Choose!