In the U.S. about 33% of children are overweight, and about 17% are obese. Parents often do not realize when a weight problem is affecting their children, and there is a disconnect with doctor screening and obesity conversations in children.
What should parents do?
The primary thing to do is to view changes you make to benefit your child as making the whole family healthier, not depriving everyone because of 1 person. It can be a tight line, but don’t single your child out. Second, you should practice what you preach. This means you yourself should follow doctor’s guidelines for your child. Switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy products, consume more water instead of sugary sodas and juices, eliminate fast food and carefully monitor portion sizes. Similarly, you should not be reward children for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Rather than trying to completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from their diet, teach them to practice moderation and live a healthy lifestyle. Reduce TV, computer and video game time, and instead engage in family-friendly activities like walks, hikes, bike riding, soccer, baseball, swimming, etc.
How are overweight and obese children affected?
Obese children may be more prone to low self-esteem stemmed from being teased, bullied or rejected by peers. Children who are unhappy with their weight may be more likely than average-weight children to:
· Develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders
· Be more prone to depression
· Be at risk for substance abuse
Aside from the psychological side effects, overweight and obese kids are at risk for developing medical problems that affect their present and future health and quality of life. These include:
· high blood pressure
· high cholesterol
· abnormal blood lipid levels
· insulin resistance
· type 2 diabetes
· bone and joint problems
· shortness of breath
· restless or disordered sleep patterns
· tendency to mature earlier
· liver and gall bladder disease
Preventing and treating overweight/obesity in children can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as they get older.
What should doctors do?
Doctor’s should be plotting each child’s BMI on a growth chart to keep track of changes each year. Overweight is defined as a BMI in the 85th to 95th percentile for children of the same age and gender. Above the 95th percentile is considered obese. Furthermore, doctors need to be straightforward with parents that their child being at an unhealthy weight puts them at risk for later problems.