Health Library

Categories > Children’s Health > Growth and development

Your child’s weight: Striking a balance
Nature, nurture or both?
What’s a parent to do?

What’s at stake?
What’s at stake?

In the last few years, doctors have seen an alarming rise in the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease that generally strikes adults. Why the increase? Doctors attribute it to more obesity and less activity among kids. Unfortunately, diabetes is just one of the health risks an overweight child is exposed to. Others include …

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • joint stiffness
  • adult obesity

If your child is overweight …
If your child is overweight …

  • Focus on slowing the rate of weight gain rather than on weight loss.
  • Help him or her make small changes, like trading a daily ice cream cone for a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt or a piece of fruit.
  • Limit eating to the kitchen table. That eliminates mindless munching in front of the TV, for example.
  • Help your child keep a food and activity diary. Look for patterns that should be broken and others that should be established. Is your child eating out of boredom? Does he or she spend five hours or more in front of the TV? Does he or she eat a lot of fried foods?
  • Don’t make food and weight the central issues in your relationship.
  • Build your child’s self-esteem and be sensitive to his or her feelings. Don’t criticize or be impatient.

Family fitness fun for all
Family fitness fun for all

Kids who are physically active have a lot going for them. For one, exercise is a great way to burn calories and control weight. For another, activity helps keep chronic health problems at bay. Besides being better able to meet daily physical demands, active kids are also more confident.

Do your part to encourage physical activity from the time your kids are tots. Start by setting a good example. Instead of spending all evening in front of the TV, go bike riding or take a walk. If it’s too cold, march in place or jump rope. Your kids will soon want to join in.

When they do, focus on the positive aspects of exercise. Rather than place the emphasis on competition (the pressure can make some kids dread sports!) treat it as an opportunity for shared family time. Always praise your children for trying, and encourage them to reach a goal. Track their progress and congratulate them when they reach it. Taking these steps will help your children make fitness a lifetime habit.

It’s virtually impossible to escape the weighty statistics: Today, more than 66 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. What’s worse, the trend has gotten a hold of our kids, too, with 18 percent of children and adolescents now overweight. It’s clear that the problem has reached epidemic proportions. Besides being a health risk (see “What’s at Stake?”), obesity makes children vulnerable to ego-bruising put-downs.

Nature, nurture or both?

There’s no question that heredity plays a strong role in childhood obesity. Studies of adopted children have shown time and again that when it comes to weight, kids grow to resemble their biological parents more closely than their adoptive parents. Nevertheless, genes are just one of many factors that come into play. So if obesity runs in the family, that simply means you need to pay extra attention to your child’s diet and exercise habits. In most cases, slowing the rate of weight gain—rather than actual weight loss—is the soundest and most successful strategy.

What’s a parent to do?

With early intervention, your child is not destined to be overweight. The good news: There’s much parents can do to help keep kids’ weight in check.

  • Make healthful eating a family affair. Don’t underestimate your power as a role model. Pile your plate with greens, beans and whole grains. Include a wide variety of foods in your diet. Limit portions, eat only to satisfy your hunger and show your kids that it’s possible to enjoy occasional treats within the context of a nutritious diet.
  • Honor your child’s hunger—and fullness. What should you do if your daughter says she’s famished, but it’s an hour till dinner? Offer her some carrot sticks or a couple of whole-grain crackers to tide her over. That way she’ll learn to respect her internal hunger cues. By the same token, if your child says she’s had enough to eat, don’t force her to clean her plate.
  • Stock your shelves with healthful snacks. Are cookies, chips, ice cream and candy staples in your home? If so, replace them with graham crackers, fat-free yogurt or sorbets and pretzels. Fruit, veggies, raisins and cereal always make for healthful snacking.
  • Get active. Kids and adults alike should get at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. So take walks or go bike riding as a family. Jump rope or play basketball in the backyard. Make physical activity the focus of family outings and vacations (see “Family Fitness: Fun For All”).
  • Keep an eye on beverages. Limit your child’s intake of high-calorie soft drinks and fruit beverages.

If your child’s problem persists, do not put him or her on a diet. Continue to be supportive, and ask your pediatrician for guidance.