An increasing number of kids are overweight, and if no intervention is made, 80% of them will stay overweight as adults. This can put them at risk for many medical problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea. Obesity can also adversely affect their self esteem.
Children normally need a certain number of calories each day (energy allowance) that their bodies use as energy for normal daily activities (walking, breathing, etc.). This ranges for boys from 2000 calories for a 7-10 year old, 2500 calories for an 11-14 year old, and 3000 calories for a 15-18 year old. For girls the ranges are from 2000 calories for a 7-10 year old, to 2200 calories for an 11-18 year old. These are only estimates and some children need more (fast metabolism) or less (slow metabolism) of an energy allowance for daily activities.
If a child consumes more food and calories than is required by their energy allowance, than those excess calories are converted to fat for storage. Conversely, if a child consumes less food and calories than is required by their energy allowance, than their body fat is converted to energy for the needed calories.
Energy Stored (Fat) = Energy In – Energy Used
You can lose weight by either dieting (eating fewer calories each day) or by exercising, so that your body needs more energy and uses up more calories. Either way, body fat will be burned and converted to energy and you will lose weight.
The first goal of weight management in kids should be to stop weight gain and maintain normal growth in height. This way they can ‘grow into’ their weight. You can begin doing this by having your child eat healthier (about 500 fewer calories each day) and begin a program of regular exercise and physical activity. Once your child has stopped gaining weight and is on a regular program of dieting and exercising, you can set further goals of slow weight loss (about a 10% reduction at a time) if necessary.
It is easier for your child to lose weight if he is motivated to do so. But even without motivation you can still help your child to lose weight by making healthy choices for his meals at home and encouraging regular exercise and physical activity. You can help him to become more motivated by getting the whole family actively involved in the process of eating healthier and exercising regularly.
It is also important to modify the behaviors that led your child to become overweight and prevent weight loss, including:
- Limiting Television: you should limit television viewing to about one or two hours each day (this includes playing video games or using the computer). Watching television doesn’t use up many calories and it encourages eating unhealthy foods and unhealthy habits.
- Healthy Eating Habits: your child should eat three well-balanced meals of average size each day, plus two nutritious snacks. Discourage skipping of meals (especially breakfast).
- Snacks: you should limit snacks to two each day and they can include low-calorie foods, such as raw fruits or vegetables. Avoid using high calorie or high fat foods for snacks, especially chips, cookies, etc.
- Drinking: you should encourage your child to drink four to six glasses of water each day, especially before meals. Water has no calories and it will help you to feel full. Other drinks can include diet sodas and low fat milk. Avoid letting your child drink regular soft drinks or fruit juices, as they are high in calories (150-170 calories per serving).
- Diet Journal: help your child to keep a weekly journal of food and beverage intake and also of the amount of time that is spent watching television, playing video games and exercising. You can also record your child’s weight each week (but do not weight your child every day).
It is not necessary to count calories, but you and your child should become more educated about the foods you eat and how many calories they contain. You should begin to routinely check the nutrition label of the foods that your family is eating. You want to try and eat foods low in calories and also low in fat. Be careful of many low fat or ‘diet foods,’ as they can still be high in calories even though they are low in fat.
Also, begin checking the serving size of prepared meals and snacks. A bag of chips may only have 200 calories, but you may be surprised when the serving size is only 10 chips. Eating the whole bag can easily get you over 1000 calories.
Some eating habits that will help your child lose weight include:
- Healthy Meals: your child should eat three well-balanced meals of average size each day. Serve fewer fatty foods. It is best to prepare foods that are baked, broiled or steamed, rather than fried. In addition to a small serving of lean meat, provide large servings of vegetables.
- Single Servings: Avoid serving seconds of the main course or desert. You can eat more salad or other vegetables if still hungry.
- Desserts: serve fresh fruit as a dessert and avoid frequent eating of ice cream or cake or other high calorie foods.
- Grocery shopping: buy low-calorie and low fat meals, snacks and deserts and buy low fat or skim milk and diet drinks. Avoid buying high calorie deserts or snacks, such as snack chips, regular soft drinks or regular ice cream.
- Eat at the table: Avoid letting your child eat meals or snacks outside of the kitchen or dining room. And no eating while watching TV.
- Avoid Fast Food: you should limit how often you allow your children to eat fast food, as it is usually high in fat and calories.
An essential part of any weight loss or weight management program is regular fitness. Encourage your child to participate in a physical education class in school and extracurricular sports at school or in the community. Try and find physical activities that your child enjoys doing.
Some tips to increase your child’s and family’s physical activities include:
- Walk or ride your bike instead of driving for short distances.
- Take a walk with a friend or walk the family dog each afternoon.
- Use stairs instead of escalators or elevators, especially if you have to walk out of your way to find the stairs.
- Park your car at the end of the parking lot and walk to the entrance of the mall or grocery store.
- Encourage regular exercise for 20-30 minutes 4-5 times each week. This can include walking, jogging, swimming, bike riding, rollerblading, riding a skateboard, etc. It can also include playing a new sport, such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer, etc.
- Family exercise: go for routine family walks or bike rides in the neighborhood or local park.
Be a good role model
To help get your child motivated to exercise and eat more healthy, it is very important that you provide him with a healthy lifestyle that he can model his own life against. This includes having healthy eating habits and participating in a regular exercise program. Also limit how much time that the family watches television.
Protecting Self Esteem
While it is important to help your child reach a more healthy weight, it is not as important as maintaining their self-esteem. Some tips to help support your child include never telling your child that he is fat, avoid strict diets or withholding or depriving your child of food when he is hungry and don’t overly nag your child about his weight or eating habits. Also, make sure your child knows that being overweight doesn’t change what kind of person he is or how much you love him.
- Be patient. This is a chronic problem.
- Get the whole family involved. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise should be a regular part of your family’s life. It is much easier if everyone in the house follows these guidelines, than if your child has to do it alone.
- Allow your child to have special foods or desserts on special occasions.
- Avoid strict diets, fasting, and crash, liquid or fad diets. They rarely work and will discourage your child from continuing. Adult diets, such as the Atkins diet, cabbage soup diets, etc. have not been proven safe or effective dieting tools for children.
- Call your pediatrician if your child is not having some weight loss with this regimen or if it is affecting his self-esteem.
- Consider seeing a nutritionist for help with dieting, weight loss and in planning your family’s diet.