Do you know when to be concerned about your child’s weight? Of course, all children gain weight as they grow older. But extra pounds — more than what is needed to support their growth and development — can lead to childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents.
It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, most excess weight is caused by kids eating too much and exercising too little.
Children, unlike adults, need extra nutrients and calories to fuel their growth and development. But children who eat more calories than needed gain weight beyond what is required to support their growing bodies.
Many factors — usually working in combination — increase your child’s risk of becoming overweight like diet, inactivity, genetics, psychological factors, family factors, socioeconomic factors and so on.
When to seek medical advice
Not all children carrying extra pounds are overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames. And children normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. So you might not know just by looking at your child if his or her weight is a health concern.
If you are worried that your child is putting on too much weight, talk to a physician. S/he will evaluate if your child’s weight is in an unhealthy range.
Obese children can develop serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, often carrying these conditions into an obese adulthood.
Overweight children are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, Metabolic syndrome, High blood pressure, Asthma and other respiratory problems, Sleep disorders, Liver disease, Early puberty or menarche, Eating disorders, Skin infections
The social and emotional fallout also can hurt your child, especially resulted in low self-esteem and bullying, behavior and learning problems and depression.
Parents are the ones who buy the food, cook the food and decide where the food is eaten. Even small changes can make a big difference in your child’s health.
* When buying groceries, choose fruits and vegetables over convenience foods high in sugar and fat. Always have healthy snacks available. And never use food as a reward or punishment.
* Limit sweetened beverages, including those containing fruit juice. These drinks provide little nutritional value in exchange for their high calories. They also can make your child feel too full to eat healthier foods.
* Sit down together for family meals. Make it an event — a time to share news and tell stories. Discourage eating in front of a screen, such as a television, computer or video game. This leads to fast eating and lowered awareness of how much you are eating.
* Limit the number of times you eat out, especially at fast-food restaurants. Many of the menu options are high in fat and calories.
A critical component of weight loss, especially for children, is physical activity. It not only burns calories but also builds strong bones and muscles and helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. Such habits established in childhood help adolescents maintain healthy weight despite the hormonal changes, rapid growth and social influences that often lead to overeating. And active children are more likely to become fit adults.
To increase your child’s activity level:
* Limit recreational screen time to fewer than two hours a day.
* Emphasise activity, not exercise.
* Find activities your child likes to do.
* If you want an active child, be active yourself.
* Vary the activities.
Whether your child is at risk of becoming overweight or currently at a healthy weight, you can take proactive measures to get or keep things on the right track.
* Schedule yearly well-child visits. Take your child to the doctor for well-child checkups at least once a year.
* Set a good example. Make sure you eat healthy foods and exercise regularly to maintain your weight. Then, invite your child to join you.
* Avoid food-related power struggles with your child.
* Emphasise the positive. Encourage a healthy lifestyle by highlighting the positive — the fun of playing outside or the variety of fresh fruit you can get year-round, for example.
* Be patient. Many overweight children grow into their extra pounds as they get taller. Realise, too, that an intense focus on your child’s eating habits and weight can easily backfire, leading a child to overeat even more, or possibly making him or her more prone to developing an eating disorder.
Coping and support
Parents play a crucial role in helping children who are obese feel loved and in control of their weight. Take advantage of every opportunity to build your child’s self-esteem.
Consider the following advice:
* Find reasons to praise your child’s efforts.
* Talk to your child about his or her feelings. Help your child find ways to deal with his or her emotions that don’t involve eating.
* Help your child focus on positive goals.
Dr Tareq Salahuddin
Source: The Daily Star, February 07, 2009