By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
Obesity is one of the most prevalent diseases among children in the United States. To put that into perspective, here are some statistics:
- According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 18% of children, age 6-11, are obese.
- More than 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese.
- About 20% of children are already overweight or obese before they enter school.
- Research shows that overweight kindergartners are four times as likely as their healthy-weight classmates to be obese by eighth grade.
- An overweight child, age 3-5, is three times more likely to become an obese adult than a healthy weight peer.
Those are some scary statistics, especially when obese people have a higher risk of developing hypertension, type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, and some cancers. While those issues may not develop until later in life, overweight or obese children can feel hindered by their weight or suffer ridicule from their peers. Obviously, childhood obesity is no laughing matter, but there are several things you can do to prevent and treat childhood obesity.
What is a healthy weight?
Pediatric weight guidelines are much different than adult guidelines. The best way to assess your child’s weight is to talk to your pediatrician. It is important to obtain an overweight or obese diagnosis from your doctor before taking action. Body mass index (BMI), or the indicator of weight status, is age- and sex-specific for children and teens.
After BMI is calculated for children and teens, it is expressed as a percentile that is relative to other children in the U.S.
BMI-for-age percentile shows how your child’s weight compares to that of other children of the same age and sex. For example, a BMI-for-age percentile of 65% means that the child’s weight is greater than that of 65% of other children of the same age and sex. Normal or healthy weight weight status is based on a BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile on the CDC growth chart. It is difficult to provide healthy weight ranges for children and teens because the interpretation of BMI depends on weight, height, age, and sex. Therefore, it is very important to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s weight status. However, if you would like an idea of your child’s BMI before talking to the doctor, you can calculate the BMI at home using this BMI calculator.
How can I treat an overweight or obese child?
Once you receive an overweight or obese diagnosis for your child, there are several ways to combat the issue. There are many schools of thought on whether you should discuss weight with your child. In my opinion, if the discussion will conjure negative feelings by you or your child, it should be avoided. It is better to take action rather than have a negative discussion about the topic. There are several positive ways to encourage healthy weight loss for your child, which will teach lifelong healthy habits.
- Meet with a Registered Dietitian. A Registered Dietitian (RD) is schooled in nutrition, food intolerances and medical nutrition therapy. An RD can help you and your child tackle healthy eating obstacles and set weight loss goals. A-Game Sports has an in-house Dietitian and offers nutrition counseling for children and families.
- Make eating out a special treat. Some families visit fast food restaurants quite often. Unfortunately, the options at these places are usually quite unhealthy. Instead, make eating out a “sometimes” occurrence, in which you let the child choose the restaurant.
- Use MyPlate. This handy tool, created by the USDA, is perfect to teach children about portion control. Give your child drawing tools, and let them draw what they would put on their plate, using the MyPlate as a guide.
- Let children be the decision makers. Bring your child to the supermarket and let them choose all the fruits and veggies for the household. This will not only empower your child, but they will be more likely to eat the foods they chose.
- Cook with your child. Pick out a healthy recipe with your child and then cook it together. Make sure the recipe has fruits and vegetables! Children are much more likely to eat foods that they cooked, and it’s a family bonding experience.
My child is healthy, so I don’t need to worry.
That’s not exactly true. Children learn more about food and eating during their first five years than during any other developmental period; these are the years during which food preferences and eating habits are established. Unhealthy diet and physical activity behaviors learned at very early ages are likely to persist throughout life. All of the above tips can also apply to a normal weight child in order to establish healthy eating habits. The best way to combat childhood obesity is by practicing prevention. Prevention efforts should begin as early as possible. Make food a source of nourishment, rather than a cause for concern.
Have any questions about treating an overweight or obese child? Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. She’s excited to spread the message of healthy eating and “food as fuel” at A-Game Sports. To find out more about our Nutritionist or to schedule an appointment for you or your child, visit our nutrition counseling page.