Childhood overweight and obesity has become what is considered an epidemic in the United States. Although it tends to be worse in communities with lower economic resources, it affects children in every demographic.
• According to the American Obesity Association, one in six children is obese
• The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that:
– “According to the U.S. Surgeon General, in the USA, the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled [tripled] since 1980.”
– “…the number of obese 6-11 year olds has more than doubled since the 1960s.”
What is causing childhood overweight and obesity?
Many factors contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. The simple formula for weight gain is that when more calories are consumed than a body needs for energy, it results in the body storing (gaining) fat.
A lack of physical activity contributes to weight gain. Children today are less active than those in generations before them. Because technology has become part of our everyday lives, much of the time that a child might otherwise be spent outside moving and playing is now spent watching television, playing video games, and sitting to chat online with friends. These sedentary activities are also often paired with the habit of eating high-calorie snacks, like cookies or chips. Children who live in urban areas might not have access to the traffic-free, safe outdoor spaces they need to play or exercise in, and this could be another obstacle to getting enough exercise.
Of course, the types and amounts of foods kids eat can also contribute to excess weight. There is an astonishing variety of readily available (such as vending machines and at the corner gas station) foods that tend to be large or multiple in portions (it’s common for a highly-sweetened fruit drink or iced tea, for example, to be sold in a bottle containing more than two servings). These foods are also often high in fat, low in fiber, and high in sugar.
While it’s not the sole reason for becoming overweight, a child’s genetic makeup may also influence his or her tendency to gain weight. Studies have suggested that a child’s risk of becoming obese is greater if both of their parents are obese. It’s unclear if this is due more to nature, nurture, or a combination of both, but it’s helpful to know when determining the challenges a child might face during their journey toward a healthy weight.
How Being Overweight Can Affect Your Child’s Health
Being overweight can affect a child’s self-esteem and comfort level in social situations. It might be difficult for the child to participate in sports or other activities because of their weight, fitness level or size. Overweight children are often teased, which can negatively influence their self-perception beyond childhood.
Even though many of the diseases normally associated with obesity are thought of as being exclusively adult health concerns, being overweight or obese can also greatly compromise a child’s health.
• Children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight or obese adults
• 8 to 45 % of all new type 2 diabetes cases are now children
• Being overweight can make it difficult for children to exercise at a normal level
• Being overweight or obese can aggravate asthma
• Overweight children a greater risk for orthopedic injuries
• Being overweight can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer
A recent study of teens also found that excess body fat could decrease the elasticity of blood vessels; this in turn could lead to higher blood pressure (since the heart has to work harder to push blood through more rigid blood vessels) and many other related health problems.
How do you know if your child is overweight?
It can sometimes be difficult for parents to determine whether their child’s weight is normal, and it’s common for parents to think that their overweight child’s size is within a healthy range. In these cases, it’s smart to get the opinion of a medical professional that is familiar with what weight is optimal for a child’s health.
At Lindora, we use a simple tool to help determine what an adult’s healthy weight should be: the Body Mass Indicator, or BMI. The BMI factors one’s height, weight, and gender to determine whether overall body mass is within a healthy, overweight, or obese range. A similar chart exists for children and teens, but because children are growing, the BMI-for-age chart compares a child’s weight to other children of the same gender and age group. According to the BMI-for-age chart:
• Children whose BMI is between the 85th percentile and 95th percentile (this means that their weight is greater than 85% or 95% of other children in their age range and gender) are considered to be at risk for overweight.
• Children whose BMI is more than or equal to the 95th percentile (this means that their weight is greater than or equal to 95% of other children in their age range and gender) are considered to be overweight.
To find out more about the BMI, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.
What can you do to help your child reach a healthier weight?
A great way to help your child become more lean is by being a positive role model, teaching by example about how to eat better and move more. Offer your child loving, positive support while you take on a healthier lifestyle together. Pointing out poor habits or making ultimatums for weight loss aren’t positive or effective ways to teach a child healthier lifestyle choices.
The main key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is incorporating good nutrition and physical activity into the family’s everyday life. Here are a few guidelines and first steps to take toward guiding your child to a healthier lifestyle.
• Avoid using the word “obese” when referring to your child’s weight; it can negatively impact how they think about themselves.
• Include the entire family in a healthier lifestyle—not just the overweight child. – Go on walks, bike rides or hikes as a family. Focus on having fun and on getting healthier—not on losing weight—during these new activities.
• Involve children in preparing meals; it’s fun for them as well as a great way for them to learn about healthy cooking.
• Take a look at the role food plays in the family. Try to avoid giving it as a reward, or restricting it as a punishment.
• Set aside enough time to eat together without rushing; this will help the family enjoy the food and to feel more full—and satisfied—afterward.
For more tips on setting a great example and practicing a healthy lifestyle with your child, visit www.obesity.org.
Eating Better and Moving More—At School
Because children’s lifestyles are influenced at school as well as home, it makes sense to teach and practice the principles for healthy living in both places. In the interest of improving children’s health and preventing childhood obesity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with medical associations, have made significant efforts to promote better eating at school. They offer guidelines to schools for creating diverse, nutritious menu options as well as promoting a pleasant dining environment and unrushed, enjoyable lunch times. Some schools are offering nutrition education as part of their curriculum. State and federal agencies, along with various organizations, have also joined in to promote a more physically active environment for children at school and beyond.
Does Lindora offer a program for overweight teens and children?
Lindora treats many teens, pre-teens and children (to date, more than 1,600 kids and teens have completed our programs!). We understand the unique challenges—both emotionally and physically—that children can face when they are overweight.
Most kids need a lot of help and support in losing weight, primarily through frequent visits and close follow-up over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the more often we have contact with a child and their parent(s) (whether in a clinic, online, or by phone), the better the results in weight loss and maintenance.
If you are in Southern California, we invite you to visit one of the Lindora clinics for a free consultation and to speak with our medical staff about program options. If you’re unable to visit a clinic, we suggest starting with our BodyPride book—a book written especially for teens—and pair this with support from our Lindora Online or Lindora By Phone programs. You may order the BodyPride book—as well as the program—online or by calling 1-800-LINDORA (1-800-546-3672).
If you would like more information on weight-loss programs for teens and children, consider inquiring with the pediatric department of a local university-based hospital. Here are some things to think about when evaluating and choosing a weight loss program for your child:
1. The program should be comprehensive and address self-image, psychological barriers to weight loss, physical activity, medical status related to weight gain and loss, and cultural influences.
2. The diet should consist of real food and not just packaged foods.
3. The program should be personalized. Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, the program should be modified depending on one’s starting weight, hunger and activity level, age, and goal.
4. It’s more expensive, but we recommend a medically based weight loss program. Medicine, like any other science, is continually evolving. We at Lindora are constantly learning from new research, ongoing studies, and the personal experiences of hundreds of thousands of patients.
5. In comparing weight loss programs, focus on long-term goals. Losing a lot of weight in a short time—just to regain it all (and usually more) back in a shorter period of time—is of little benefit medically, physically, or psychologically.
Your child’s experience in reaching a healthy weight should be a positive one. Learning about the best options for your child shows that you care about their happiness and well-being. We at team Lindora congratulate you on taking the first step toward better health for your family.