What causes children to become overweight?
While the exact causes of obesity are unknown, research points at several key factors:
- Toxic “food environment”: Fast food, junk food and soft drinks have become a prominent part of the landscape, and food advertising directed at children has exploded.
- Portion sizes have ballooned: Today, a single "supersize" fast food meal can contain a child's total daily calorie requirements.
- The lure of TV and the computer: Combined with parental safety concerns, this leads to less time spent outdoors in energetic play.
Some other factors that may contribute to weight management problems in children are:
- easy availability of food, especially high-calorie snacks
- parents' attitudes toward food
- using food as a reward or to change behaviors
- lack of exercise
- television watching and snacking
- not knowing how to eat healthfully
- heredity (the size of parents and other family members)
- socioeconomic factors
For children 7 years old and younger
Generally, weight loss is not recommended for babies and young children who are still growing and developing. The goal of treatment for these children is to maintain their weight while they continue to grow taller.
For children older than 7
The most important tools in weight management are diet changes and exercise—and it’s important that parents and the child are ready and willing to make lifestyle changes. Here are some general guidelines that may be used to help your child manage her weight:
Even when dieting, however, calories should not be cut back so much that your adolescent's energy needs are not met. The number of calories your adolescent needs depends primarily on your child’s age, gender and activity level.
What can I do to help with my child’s weight management?
Making weight management family-centered is a good way to help your child achieve her goals. Remember that children model what their parents do.
Some ways that you can help include:
Use activities—rather than food—as a reward for good behavior.
- The goal is to start by maintaining baseline weight, and then add slow changes in eating and exercise to achieve slow weight loss as recommended by your child’s physician.
- At this age, a child or adolescent should follow adult guidelines and limit fat intake.
Eat a variety of foods that are low in calories. Consider that your adolescent needs enough calories to maintain her energy level, but no more than she can burn off. This is called an energy balance.
- If she takes in more calories than she burns, she gains weight.
- If she takes in fewer calories than she burns, she loses weight.
- If she balances the two, she maintains her weight.
- Eat fewer high-fat foods.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Eat fewer sweets, candy, cookies, chips and sodas.
- Change to skim milk.
- Family walks are inexpensive and work well with younger children.
- When families eat together and keep a "food-safe environment," there’s a greater chance of success.
- Have family meal time and snack times.
- Provide only healthful food for your child to choose from. For example, stock in the refrigerator with apples and yogurt, rather than cookies and pies.
- Involve the entire family in a healthy eating plan, not just your child who is overweight.
- Encourage activities that promote exercise, such as riding a bike, walking or skating.