Causes vary according to an individual’s circumstances but some of the common culprits are:
- Advertising and greater availability of less healthy foods and beverages, and/or limited access for some to affordable healthy foods
- Low physical activity, caused by a lack of safe places to play and/or a greater desire to watch television and play video games
Increasing portion sizes
- Lack of breastfeeding support (breastfeeding protects against childhood obesity)
- Obese children may suffer from social problems, low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. In addition to this, their condition may increase their risk for:
- Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
Bone and joint problems
- Prediabetes (and a high risk for development of diabetes)
- Breathing problems (such as asthma or sleep apnea)
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Children who remain obese into adulthood increase their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and many types of cancer.
What’s a concerned parent to do? Like adults, obese children need to adopt healthy lifestyle habits in order to lose excess weight and keep it off. Here are five things you can do right now as a parent to help your child succeed:
1. Adopt healthy eating habits and make nutritious food taste good – Like adults, children who eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins have more success maintaining a healthy weight than those who consume foods that are high in calories, sugar and saturated fat. What if your child hates vegetables? Disguise them! Try making veggie lasagna with whole wheat pasta noodles or black bean tacos with fresh tomato salsa and avocados. Bake up a batch of oven sweet potato “fries” and serve them with a yogurt dipping sauce. Lighten some of your existing family favorite recipes with small modifications and encourage your child to cook with you.
2. Remove temptation from your house – Replace sugar-laden or high-calorie processed foods with low-fat, low-sugar treats like fresh fruit, or vegetables with low-fat dips. Replace soft-drinks and other sugary drinks with water, or sparkling water if that helps. Go out for special treats like ice cream, rather than keeping a container in your freezer.
3. Help your child control portions – Offer single servings of snacks to your child (like a medium sized apple or banana, or a cup of grapes). Plate your child’s meals according to the choosemyplate.gov guideline of approximately ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables (more vegetables than fruit), a little over ¼ a plate of grains and a little under ¼ a plate of lean protein.
4. Incentivize physical activity – Encourage kids to be active by making them earn screen time (television or video games) with physical activity. Try organized sports, swimming lessons or public facilities like a skate park or a climbing wall to engage your child.
5. Walk the walk – Model a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious foods and staying active. Better yet, plan activities with your child like family bike rides, hikes and dog walks. If you don’t adopt a healthy lifestyle it’s almost certain your child won’t. Your doctor can provide advice and guidelines for reducing your child’s weight effectively and safely.