Avoid Child Obesity
Encourage and Display a Healthy Lifestyle

The percentage of child obesity in the United States is growing at an alarming rate and has more than doubled since the 1970s.

On the whole, kids are spending less time exercising and more time in front of the TV, computer, or video-game and today's busy families have fewer free moments to prepare nutritious, home cooked meals.

Current studies show the between 5-25 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are obese.

A child may be classified as obese when total body weight is more than 25 percent fat in boys and more than 32 percent fat in girls.


Child obesity presents numerous problems for children in addition to increasing the risk an overweight adulthood, such as:

  • Pediatric hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • Increased stress on weight-bearing joints
  • Lowers self-esteem and affects relationships with peers
  • Can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Restless or disordered sleep patterns
  • Tendency to mature earlier
  • Liver and gall bladder disease

More and more doctors are using body mass index (BMI) to determine child obesity. When the child has a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for age and sex they are overweight.

To calculate your child's BMI, divide his or her weight by his or her height squared in kilograms and meters. If you use pounds and inches multiply the result by a conversion factor of 703.

An easier way to get your child's BMI is to use a BMI calculator or a chart. It is also important to remember that BMI is usually a good indicator - but not a direct measurement of body fat.


As with adult obesity, child obesity has multiple causes centering around an imbalance between the number of calories consumed and the number of calories expended.

Obesity most likely results from an interaction of nutritional, psychological, familial, and physiological factors.

  • The Family: The risks of becoming overweight is highest in children whose parents are overweight. Due to genetic factors or parental modeling of both eating and exercise behaviors.
  • Low-energy Expenditure: Too much snacking and too much time in front of the TV. High caloric foods are being consumed without physical activity to burn the calories.
  • Heredity: Heredity has recently been shown to influence fatness, regional fat distribution, and response to overfeeding. Actual time spent doing fitness-building activities is on the down swing.
  • Illness and medications: In some instances, endocrine problems, genetic syndromes, and medications can be associated with excessive weight gain.
  • Nutrition:
  • Much of what we eat is quick and easy - from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. Portion sizes in the home and out have drastically increased.

Healthy nutrition and physical fitness is a life style which can be learned even in early childhood.


The key to avoiding child obesity in your family is by taking a whole-family approach, "practice what you preach."

Get your children involved by letting them help prepare healthy meals, take them along shopping and teach them to read the food labels and make good choices, and exercise as a family with bike rides, walks, or games.

Avoid falling into some common food/eating traps such as:

  • Don't reward children for good behavior with sweats or treats. Try other solutions to modify their behavior.
  • Don't maintain a clean-plate policy. Be aware of kid's hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they are full. If kids are satisfied, don't force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they're hungry.
  • Don't talk about "bad foods" or completely eliminate all sweets and snacks from overweight children's diets. Children may rebel and over eat these forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own.

Obesity treatment programs for children and adolescents rarely have weight loss as a goal. Rather the aim is to slow or halt weight gain so the child will grow into his or her body weight over a period of months to years.

Early and appropriate intervention is particularly valuable, such as:

  • Physical activity: Adopting a formal exercise program, or simply becoming more active, is valuable to burn fat, increase energy expenditure, and maintain lost weight.
  • Diet management: fasting or extreme caloric restriction is not advisable for children. Balanced diets with moderate caloric restrictions coupled with exercise can be an effective treatment. Never reduce your child's food intake to promote weight loss without first consulting a doctor.
  • Behavior modification: Many behavior strategies used with adults have been successful with children and adolescents also: self-monitoring and recording food intake and physical activity, slowing the rate of eating, limiting the time and place of eating, and using rewards and incentives for desirable behaviors.

Preventing child obesity in your children means adapting the way you and your family eat and exercise and the way you spend time together. Helping your children lead healthy lifestyles begin with you, the parent, and leading by example.

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