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Pounding away at excess weight
Your fat-fighting battle plan

Coaching your child’s spirit
Coaching your child’s spirit

Obesity is a rough road, especially for a kid. If obesity is causing your child to suffer, you can help by:

  • Not overreacting. Stay cool and teach your child he or she can handle the situation.
  • Staying connected. Organize play dates or social activities with children who make your child feel good, not bad.
  • Ignoring the teasing. Explain to your child that anger and crying may bring on more teasing. Teasers may stop if they get less attention.
  • Using humor or compliments. Teach your child that a funny comeback or a quick “thank you” may slow or stop the teasing.
  • Asking for help. Tell your child not to be afraid to ask you or another trusted adult for help.
  • Making a list of your child’s positive qualities. Instruct your child to look at the list for a self-esteem boost.

If your child is overweight or obese, take steps now to reduce his or her risk of developing one or more of the following adult-size problems:

  • Metabolic syndrome. This disease afflicts some 30 percent of obese children. Metabolic syndrome is really a group of health problems, including elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, increased triglycerides and decreased HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Type 2 diabetes. A disease that used to exclusively affect older adults, type 2 diabetes is now the fastest growing form of diabetes in the country—because thousands of children have been diagnosed. Experts now recommend that all overweight children with two or more risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes or insulin resistance, be tested beginning at age 10.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Research shows severely obese 9- to 11-year-olds already have stiffness in their neck arteries, which puts them at greater risk for stroke. Stiffness is caused by fatty deposits called plaque, which affects all arteries, increasing an obese child’s heart attack risk.
  • Asthma. Childhood obesity increases the risk of asthma, one of the most common problems affecting the lungs. Excess abdominal fat also interferes with normal lung function by limiting the diaphragm’s motion, making breathing difficulties even worse.
  • Liver disease. About 50 percent of obese children have fatty deposits in their liver, which can build up, causing liver damage. Fatty liver disease is the most common form of liver disease in children and adolescents.
  • Sleep apnea. During sleep, a child may repeatedly stop breathing for a few seconds, which briefly rouses him or her each time. Interrupted sleep leads to daytime fatigue, illness and missed school days, as well as poor school performance.
  • Hormonal changes. Obesity can spark early puberty in children. And girls may have irregular periods and facial hair; boys may develop breasts.
  • Cancer. Obesity is linked to a number of cancers in children: Girls face a higher risk of endometrial and cervical cancers and renal cell carcinoma; boys have a higher risk for liver and gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Bone problems. Obesity in young children can cause Blount’s disease (bowlegs), flat feet and problems with thigh bones slipping out of the hip joint.
  • Depression. Low self-esteem, poor body image and social isolation leave many obese children depressed and at high risk for suicide.

Your fat-fighting battle plan

The good news: You can help your child shed those unwanted pounds and head off obesity-related health problems if you understand basic nutrition and food labels and learn what’s in a low-fat diet. Try the following tips, too:

  • Develop healthy eating habits. Provide your child with a variety of fruits and vegetables and low-fat or nonfat milk and dairy. Measure portions and start small. You can always offer second helpings if your child asks.
  • Remove temptations. Don’t buy high-calorie snacks. Save indulgences for special occasions and offer plenty of fresh fruits and veggies daily.
  • Help your child stay active. Kids should get at least 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity, such as playing soccer, swimming, brisk walking and dancing.
  • Limit video games and TV. Doctors recommend no more than two hours a day of TV viewing and video gaming combined.