Is your son getting teased at school because of his weight? Has your pediatrician indicated that your daughter could stand to lose a few pounds? If so, you’re not alone. Learn about the following research-backed methods of helping your child fight obesity.
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1 in 3 Kids in the US Overweight
About 30%—or one out of every three kids—in the United States is considered overweight, according to Centers for Desease Control and Prevention, which also reports that childhood obesity more than tripled in the last 30 years. If your child is that one in three, there are some things you can start doing today to help him lose weight.
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1. Recognize the Signs
Since your child changes slowly over time, it can be easy to overlook an obesity problem—even one that is happening right before your eyes. When you see your child every day, you become accustomed to the way he looks—and automatically assume that he is at the “right" weight, or “just a little plump". It can be difficult to take an objective look at your child and recognize the signs of obesity, but if you are telling yourself that your 5 year old still has “baby fat", then you may need to take another look. It’ not just you—over 70% of moms and dads underestimate the weight and size of their obese child, according to a study published in Acta Paediatrica.
Recognizing that your child is overweight or obese is the first step you’ll need to take to address and correct the problem. If you are having trouble coming to terms with your child’s weight, consult a BMI chart or your family physician to get an idea of the ideal weight range for his height and frame. Compare the ideal with his current weight. If there is a drastic difference between these two figures, you may have a problem. Overweight children are likely to become overweight adults, asserts Dr Pieter Sauer who authored the study: “How do parents of 4- to 5-year-old children perceive the weight of their children?"
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2. Take a Look in the Mirror
She walks like you, she talks like you, and she…eats like you? Your behavior has a huge influence on your child; the best way to tell a child will succeed at a weight loss regimen is to look at the level of parental involvement. Kids with parents that participate in healthy eating changes and habits are more likely to successfully lose weight, indicate researchers of the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. In fact, their study showed that parents losing weight themselves was “ the most important predictor of child weight loss."
In other words, one of the best ways to help your child lose weight is to model the correct behavior, and to lose weight yourself if you need to. If you could stand to lose a few pounds, you have the perfect opportunity to get fit, and to help your daughter shed some pounds as well. As a parent, you also play a key role in deciding what grocery items come into the house—is the fridge stocked with pastries and frozen pizza or fresh fruit and yogurt? It’s up to you to create healthy habits that will benefit you both for a lifetime.
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3. Create Healthy Sleeping Habits
Think there’s no connection between sleeping and weight? Professor Montplaisir invites you to think again. His research shows that young kids that sleep fewer than 11 hours per night are at a greater risk of becoming overweight by the time they are seven years old.
Sleeping less can affect your child in several ways. When she is awake more hours of the day, her caloric intake will likely be higher, since she’ll consume more meals and snacks. Kids that are tired lack energy, meaning she’ll be less likely to run and play outside – and more likely to camp out on the couch in front of the television. This can create a vicious cycle—kids exercise less because they are tired, but can’t sleep well because they aren’t getting adequate stimulation and exercise during the day. Break this cycle by instilling good sleep habits and you’ll improve your child’s health as well.
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4. Turn off the Television
Not only is a sedentary kid an overweight kid, but the fast food ads that permeate the television can actually make your child fat. Kids that recognize and can identify a large number of junk food advertisements are actually more obese than their less television savvy counterparts, says Dr Auden C. McClure. She reasons that the visual signal of a fast food ad may encourage children to eat while watching TV and may prompt them toward unhealthy eating patterns. So turn off the TV and shed some pounds.
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5. Have Dinner Together
When you have dinner together as a family, you have a built in opportunity to model great table manners—and great food habits as well. Kids of both genders eat better and more nutritious meals when they share a table with the whole family. What’s more important is that kids that enjoy family meals are likely to continue healthy habits later in life, University of Minnesota researchers say.
Throughout my childhood, teens and even early twenties, I enjoyed plenty of family meals with my parents and 4 siblings, daily. Today, in my mid thirties, I attest to what researchers found: Children who shared meals with their family became adults who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoided soft drinks.
How you look, what you do and even what you eat has a huge impact on how your child responds to and uses food. Examining your habits and your home life may be the key to helping your overweight child lose weight. Calories and exercise are important, but other factors, from how much sleep he gets each night to whether or not you eat meals together play a huge role in his weight loss journey.
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Editor's Note: Concerned about the obesity epidemic in children, Matthew Papaconstantinou, a biologist, closely follows the scientific literature in the field of obesity treatment, nutrition and weight loss. He maintains a weight-loss blog where you could find a way to get Medifast at a discount in July, a clinically studied meal replacement program, and a coupon to sign up for Weight Watchers. Matthew is a former postdoctoral scientist at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis.