Parenting an overweight child can get very difficult. Most parents feel responsible for their child’s weight; yet find it very hard to deprive them of the foods that they love and ask for. How do parents know if their child is overweight? If they are, how should parents deal with their overweight children? Do they put them on a diet?
One way through which you can determine if your child is overweight is to calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI) using the following formula:
BMI = Weight (kg) / Height (M) squared
Once you have done so, plot your child on the BMI-for-Age chart which is available on the Center for Disease Control & Prevention website (www.cdc.gov). If your child falls between the 85th and 95th percentile, then they may be at risk of being overweight. If they fall above the 95th percentile, then they are considered overweight. These charts are recommended because they take into account your child’s weight, height, and age. For example, if your child is heavy but is also very tall, he/she may not count as being overweight.
Children put on weight for various reasons. Genetics and heredity definitely play a role. Children whose parents are overweight will not necessarily become overweight; however, they are more at risk of becoming so. Other factors, such as the child’s lifestyle and emotions can also influence their weight.
Lifestyle factors include:
- The portions and type of food consumed.
- The level of physical activity (or the hours spent watching TV!).
- His/her overall eating habits (such as dining out and snacking).
Children who claim to always be hungry are said to be emotional eaters. They seek the pleasure they get from eating certain foods in order to conceal a more deeply rooted emotional issue. These issues can be unhappiness at school, discomfort with their physical appearance, or other more serious issues. For this reason, get involved in your child’s life and try your best to make them feel comfortable enough to talk to you openly. Help them acknowledge that any pleasure gained from eating is only temporary and will not solve any problems they might have.
Putting children below 12 years of age on a diet is not recommended, as this might put them at risk of developing micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin and mineral deficiencies). A diet is only considered if your child has secondary complications due to being overweight, and is above seven years of age. Such conditions include high blood pressure and pre-diabetes, and must be diagnosed and closely monitored by a pediatrician.
If your child is overweight and does not suffer from other complications, it is recommended to try and keep your child’s weight stable. As they grow in height, their BMI will begin to normalize.
Encourage your child to become physically active as this will help keep them from putting on additional weight. Try the following:
- Signing him/her up in an after-school activity,
- Limit TV and computer time to two hours per day at most,
- Teach them how to use a skipping rope.
In addition, try to limit your child’s consumption of empty calories and “healthify” their snacks. Here are a few examples:
- Replace fried chips with baked ones,
- Substitute regular popcorn with low-fat popcorn,
- Instead of ice-cream, offer fruit sorbet, or an iced-fruit pop,
- Serve them diluted fresh juice instead of sodas.
Remember, your child did not acquire his or her dietary habits overnight, so make changes to these habits gradually and subtly. Although dietary adjustments are important, the main focus of your intervention should be on increasing the physical activity of your overweight child. If you make physical activity fun and desirable, you will get your child’s commitment in no time. This simple solution may put an end to your years of frustration!
One last thought you should keep in mind is that you, as a parent, have the strongest influence on your children’s behavior. The healthier and more active you are, the healthier and more active they will become.
This article offers general advice and may not be recommended for your child. Be sure to schedule your child for regular health checkups with a qualified health care professional.