One in three children in the US is overweight or obese, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a problem that touches every family in every town in America, and is putting the next generation at […]
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8 Tips to Obliterate Obesity in Children

by Jessa McClure on February 17, 2015

in Healthy Living

468687831One in three children in the US is overweight or obese, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a problem that touches every family in every town in America, and is putting the next generation at risk for early heart disease and stroke, inflammation of the liver, diabetes, and other serious diseases.

But McLane Children’s Scott & White pediatric endocrinologist Matthew D. Stephen, MD, said even though obesity is a big problem in our culture, it can be prevented and remedied.

1. Start good eating habits early

“It’s really important to start, even from the beginning stages of feeding, to promote healthy eating habits,” Dr. Stephen said.

Many babies use their bottle as a pacifier and in order to soothe their child, many parents overfeed. Over indulgence can also happen when picky toddlers won’t eat what you put in front of them. Instead of exposing the child to new, healthy foods, the parent provides them with whatever they’ll eat.

“Those habits can perpetuate themselves and lead to patterns of concentrated sugar intake and poor eating habits and choices,” the pediatric endocrinologist said.

2. Avoid fast and pre-prepared foods

In a society that values efficiency and an over-scheduled lifestyle, many families are opting for quicker meal options in the drive-thru or the frozen food aisle.

“That all tends to drive the obesity and diabetes concerns even more,” he said.

3. Create healthy eating expectations for your children

Parents have many expectations for their children’s behavior, but they often forget to impose rules and expectations for eating habits. Food should not be routinely used as a reward for good behavior.

“Having a clear sense of what is an appropriate feeding pattern and an appropriate amount of physical activity is important,” Dr. Stephen said. “You can discuss these expectations with your pediatrician and develop a plan that will help stop the transfer of weight concerns to the next generation.”

4. Make sure exercise is vigorous

While organized sports have been shown to improve physical fitness, sometimes these activities aren’t vigorous enough to maintain a healthy weight.

“If you’re in the outfield at a baseball game picking grass the whole hour, that’s not going to burn a whole lot of calories,” he said.

5. Find out what’s in your food

Sit down with your child and find out how many calories are in your favorite foods and what a portion actually looks like.

“Looking at that can be really eye opening,” he said.

The doctor recommends parents researching books or apps that provide calorie counts and nutritional information for many different foods, including those at fast food restaurants.

6. Monitor what your child’s eating

At home, you can help children cut out concentrated sugars like those found in juices, sodas and sweet teas. But when they are at school or eating away from home, it is more difficult to know what they’re consuming.

“If your child eats breakfast or lunch at school, keep track of exactly what is being charged. If they are having ice cream every day and developing a weight problem, then that’s probably an issue that needs to be discussed,” Dr. Stephen said.

7. Support your child’s emotional health

“I think perhaps even more important at the heart of weight concerns is finding out what emotional barriers or stressors are keeping them from making healthy choices,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in these patterns of behavior. And trying to break out of those patterns of behavior is really difficult.”

8. Make changes together

In order to break the cycle of bad eating habits and unhealthy living, you have to have a support system. No one can do it alone. Your child is no different. Find ways to support your child by having children choose healthy foods for the weekly menu or finding physical activities you can enjoy as a family.

“The good news is that children often don’t need to worry about losing weight,” Dr. Stephen said. “We’re just looking to slow down the pattern of weight gain so [the child] will be a more appropriate weight when they reach adulthood.”

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, so there’s no better time than the present to put some of Dr. Stephen’s suggestions into action.

For more information, the pediatric endocrinologist suggests checking out LetsMove.gov, nutrition.gov or websites sponsored by the American Heart Association, the US Department of Agriculture or the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.

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