How to Combat Childhood Obesity

Copyright 2006 Adam Waxler

As a middle school teacher I see far too many overweight children and far too much childhood obesity. While the subject of childhood obesity and overweight children is sensitive, when I know the parent outside of the school setting I usually bring up the issue. Most parents respond with – I have tried everything to help my child lose weight – bribes, threats, punishment, diets, commiseration, even hypnotism and diet pills. Unfortunately, parents tell me, their overweight child usually lost weight, only to put it back on shortly after.

Most parents’ biggest worry is that their child will be unhappy – that their child will be picked on and unpopular because she is fat. From a teacher’s perspective I can completely understand these motives, but these days my concerns about overweight children and childhood obesity are far more serious than a little name-calling.

While name-calling can be devastating, what’s scary these days is the growing evidence that childhood obesity leads to serious health complications. Too often parents think their child will “grow out” of their weight problem. However, doctors today find that they’re diagnosing children as young as ten or eleven years old with conditions that were once thought to be for middle-aged people only. Diabetes, heart conditions, and arthritis – all of these conditions have a clear established connection with obesity, whether it is childhood obesity or adult obesity does not matter. The fact is, health conditions related to obesity do not discriminate based on age. It’s enough to scare any parent into extreme methods to try to help their child lose weight, but there are healthy ways to accomplish this weight loss goal.

First: Consult a Doctor

Don’t decide on your own that your child needs to lose weight. Many of us have grown up with distorted body images that we pass on to our children. Be sure that you’re not seeing your child through your own misconceptions about ideal weight, and let a doctor make the judgment call.

If your doctor agrees that your child is overweight, your best bet is to serve up a healthy daily diet within the USDA Food Pyramid Guidelines and encourage daily exercise to help speed up his metabolism and start burning more calories.

Beyond that, here are some more weight loss tips for overweight children:

1. Put everyone in the family on a weight loss diet. Since the best way for your child to lose weight is to eat a healthy diet, doesn’t it make sense that your entire family will benefit from eating the same way? Your overweight child will feel far less deprived if everyone is eating the same foods.

2. Serve an after school snack. It may be tempting to cut out the after school snacks, but the truth is you’ll be doing more harm than good. The human body was never designed for the “three square meals a day’” regimen. A healthy snack in the mid-afternoon will actually speed up your child’s metabolism and, at the same time, ward off the “I’m starving” feeling that leads to overeating at dinner.

3. Shop smart. Don’t buy the chips and cookies at the supermarket, but instead grab the low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit and fruit cups, sugar free applesauce and other natural treats. If you make healthy snacks available and unhealthy ones difficult to find, you’ll keep temptation out of the way.

4. Exercise with your overweight child regularly. Instead of having your overweight child sit in front of the computer or zone out with his iPod, pull together a neighborhood game of kickball or soccer, or simply take a walk around the block as a family. If you can get a family membership to a health club with a pool, make a family swim a once-a-week event. This weight loss tip does much more than help your overweight child lose weight; it also creates a better relationship between you and your children.

5. Don’t cook too much food. Instead, cook just the right amount. In other words, only prepare one portion per family member. That heads off requests for seconds before they even start asking.

Having overweight children, or worse, being confronted with childhood obesity, is a serious matter. Yes, the name calling and social issues are significant, but more importantly, the health risks associated with overweight children and childhood obesity can be life threatening. By following the weight loss tips above, your overweight child will lose weight and build better social relationships with friends and family.