Helping Children with Obesity

Cheryl Zielke
Overweight Boy Eating Strawberries

Childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, nearly quadrupling over the last 25 years, thus the need for helping children with obesity. Because of its escalating prevalence, providing effective intervention and treatment has become a major task for parents, caregivers, and medical professionals.

Step One

After diagnosis, obesity treatment should begin as soon as possible. The number one focus, for the child's sake, is to identify the major factors leading to the overweight status. While physiological reasons, such as hypothyroidism and other medical conditions, will be treated with medical intervention, the major causes of poor eating habits and lack of physical activity require parent and caregiver intervention. For example, if there has been a decline in physical movement due to increased computer game interest, then regulating computer time may be step one.

Weight Loss

Helping children with obesity involves a weight loss plan. Setting realistic and safe weight loss goals is mandatory. The recommendation is to strive for a 1 to 4 pound weight reduction over the course of a month's time. While this may not sound significant in the adult perspective, it is important that quick, drastic, extreme weight loss does not occur. There are two reasons for this: general physical health of the child and the psychological health of the child. It is critical to keep in mind that children can easily become obsessed with dieting, which can result in extreme dieting practices leading to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

The weight loss plan needs to include healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks. These meals are best eaten at regular times each day. A good variety and flavorful selection of food will help the child have a positive outlook about eating better and losing weight. The determination of the child's daily caloric requirement will aid in meal planning. A nutritionist is best educated in processing this type of assessment for you, as well as developing appropriate meal plans.

Physical Activity

Obese Girl Using Exercise Ball

Encouraging and participating in physical activities is a definite benefit for helping children with obesity. Exercise expends calories. With a reduced calorie diet and increased calorie usage, weight loss is bound to occur. Help the child choose activities he or she enjoys. Some favorites include biking, hiking, swimming, martial arts, dancing, and gymnastics. While not all children are comfortable with contact sports, finding a team-oriented activity such as baseball, soccer, volleyball, and basketball may offer more inspiration to partake due to being with friends or making new friends.

"Take Home" Tips

  • Eat meals together as a family at regularly scheduled times.
  • Keep in mind that you are responsible for what, when, and where your child eats.
  • Offer a selection of healthy meals and snacks.
  • Encourage variety, both with food and activity choices.
  • Try not to use food to reward, bribe, or punish your child.
  • Turn off the television, computer, stereo; engage in conversation at each meal. It is recommended that television and computer time be limited to 1 - 2 hours per day.
  • Encourage unstructured playtime with skipping, jumping, tag, chase, catch, etc.
  • Be a positive role model with healthy eating habits and physical activity.
  • Shop wisely; avoid buying high fat, high calorie "junk" food.
  • Offer cut up fruit and veggies with dip as a snack alternative to junk food. Frozen grapes are often happily accepted.
  • Pretzels, baked chips, low-fat granola bars, apple sauce, and yogurt are healthy snacks to offer.
  • For older children, assign chores such as walking the dog, getting the mail, collecting the garbage, sweeping the garage, raking leaves, etc.
  • Enroll your child in active classes such as swimming, dancing, martial arts, gymnastics, etc.

Additional Resources for Helping Children with Obesity

Besides the advice here, several organizations and web sites may help with obesity in a number of ways. For example, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, both structured weight loss programs, will accept older children with parental consent. The family physician is a general source of information and will be able make referrals to specialists, such as nutritionists and psychiatrists. Visit the American Obesity Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians for more detailed information about the causes and treatments available. The American Dietetic Association is also loaded with information too.

Helping Children with Obesity