Your child is overweight if he/she meets any of the following criteria:
More than 25% of American children are overweight. The tendency to be overweight is usually inherited. If both parents are overweight, most of their children will be overweight. If one parent is overweight, half of the children will be overweight. If neither parent is overweight, the children have a 10% chance of being overweight.
Heredity alone (without overeating) accounts for most mild obesity, defined as less than 30 pounds overweight in an adult. Moderate obesity usually results from a combination of heredity, overeating, and underexercising. Some overeating is normal in our society, but only those who have the inherited tendency to overweight will gain significant weight when they overeat. Therefore, it is not reasonable to blame your child for being overweight.
Less than 1% of obesity has an underlying medical cause. Your physician can easily determine this by a simple physical examination.
Losing weight is very difficult. Keeping weight off is also a chore. The best time for young people to lose weight is when they are over 15 years of age. That is when they become very concerned about their appearance. The self-motivated teenager can follow a diet and lose weight, regardless of what the family eats.
Helping children between 5 and 15 years of age lose weight is very difficult because they have access to so many foods outside the home and are not easily motivated to lose weight. It is not quite as difficult to help a child under 5 years lose weight because the parents have better control of the foods the child eats.
To help your older child or teenager lose weight without losing self-esteem, try the following:
Protect your child's self-esteem
Self-esteem is more important than an ideal body weight. If your child is overweight, he/she is probably already disappointed in himself/herself. They need their family to support them and accept them as they are. Parents who become overly concerned about their child's weight can reduce or destroy self-esteem. Avoid these pitfalls:
Help your child develop readiness and motivation to lose weight
Teenagers can increase their motivation by joining a weight-loss club such as TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) or Weight Watchers. Sometimes schools have classes to help children lose weight. A child's motivation can often be improved if diet and exercise programs are undertaken by the entire family. A cooperative parent-child weight-loss program with individual goals for each family member is usually more helpful than a competitive program focused on who can lose weight faster.
Set weight-loss goals
Help your child pick a realistic target weight, depending on his/her bone structure and degree of obesity. The loss of one pound a week is an attainable goal, but your child will have to work quite hard to maintain this rate for several weeks. Have your child weigh himself/herself no more than once a week; daily weighings generate too much false hope or disappointment. Keeping a weekly record may provide added motivation. When losing weight becomes a strain, have your child take a few weeks off from the weight-loss program. During this time, try to help him/her stay at a constant weight through exercise and moderation in eating.
Once your child has reached the target weight, the long-range goal is to stay within five pounds of that weight. Maintaining a particular weight is possible only through permanent moderation in eating and a reasonable exercise program. Your child will probably always tend to gain weight easily, and it is important that he understand this.
Help your child consume fewer calories
Your child should eat three well-balanced meals a day of average-sized portions. There are no forbidden foods; your child can have a serving of anything family or friends are eating. There are forbidden portions, however. While your child is reducing, he/she must leave the table a bit hungry. He/she cannot lose weight if he/she eats until full.
Encourage average portions, and discourage seconds. Shortcuts such as fasting, crash diets, or diet pills rarely work and may be dangerous. Liquid diet preparations are only safe if used according to directions (consult a dietitian if you have any questions).
Calorie counting is helpful for some people, but it is usually too time-consuming. Instead, consider some general guidelines on what to eat and drink:
1. Fluids: Because milk has lots of calories, your child should drink no more than 16 ounces of skim, 1%, or 2% milk each day. He/she can also drink up to eight ounces of fruit juice and fruit drinks a day; they have about 15 calories per ounce, similar to the calories in 2% milk. All other drinks should be either water or diet drinks. Encourage your child to drink six glasses of water each day.
2. Meals: Serve fewer fatty foods (eggs, bacon, sausage, butter). Fat has twice as many calories as the same amount of protein and carbohydrate. Trim the fat off meats. Serve more baked, broiled, boiled, or steamed foods and fewer fried foods. Serve more fruits, vegetables, salads, and grains.
3. Desserts: Encourage smaller-than-average portions of dessert. Do not serve seconds. Encourage more Jello and fresh fruits after meals; avoid serving rich desserts.
4. Snacks: Serve only low-calorie foods such as raw vegetables (carrot sticks, celery sticks, pickles), fresh fruits (apples, oranges, cantaloupe), popcorn, or diet soft drinks. Limit snacks to two a day.
5. Vitamins: Give your child one multivitamin with iron tablet daily during the weight-loss program.
Help your child develop good eating habits
To counteract the tendency to gain weight, your youngster must be taught good eating habits that will last a lifetime. You can help your child keep off unwanted pounds by doing the following:
Encourage your child to increase calorie expenditure through exercise
Daily exercise can increase the rate of weight loss and promote a sense of physical well-being. The combination of diet and exercise is the most effective way to lose weight. Encourage your child to try the following forms of exercise:
Encourage your child to keep his/her mind off food by participating in social activities
The more outside activities your child participates in, the easier it will be for him/her to lose weight. Spare time fosters nibbling. Most snacking occurs between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Help your child fill time after school with activities such as music, drama, sports, or scouts. A part-time job after school may help too. If nothing else, encourage your child to call or visit friends. An active social life almost always leads to weight reduction.
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