How to Help Children and Adolescents Maintain a Healthy Weight

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The increase in obese children and adolescents is a growing concern as it may lead to both immediate and long-term health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) childhood obesity facts, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010.

We asked Children’s National Health System’s dietitian, Megan Barna, MS, RD, LD, to weigh in on the health effects of childhood obesity and what parents can do to prevent it.

The health effects of childhood obesity
According to Barna, some of the immediate health problems associated with childhood obesity include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, as well as social and psychological problems.

“[Obesity] can have real health effects both now and later for kids,” Barna said.

In the long-term, studies have shown that obese children and adolescents are more likely to be obese as adults. Obese children can also experience problems into adulthood such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and types of cancer.

So, what can parents do to help prevent childhood or adolescent obesity?
To help lower the risk of obesity, parents can help by establishing healthy lifestyle habits such as healthy eating and physical activity.

“Instead of focusing on a child’s numbers, we want to focus more on their health,” Barna said.

Here are some helpful tips to help your child or adolescent maintain a healthy weight:

  • Incorporate physical activity into the family’s routine. Barna recommended that parents start by getting the family active for 15 to 30 minutes a day. Choose a duration that your family can sustain and then build off that. The CDC recommends that children and adolescents participate in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activities such as brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming, dancing, or running for at least 60 minutes per day.
  • Avoid too much inactive time. The CDC states that while quiet time for reading and homework is fine, parents should limit the time children spend watching television, playing video games, or surfing the web to no more than two hours per day.
  • Try to get a fruit or vegetable in with every meal. Barna suggested making it into a family contest to help reduce temptations and encourage one another to eat more fruits and vegetables. Also, it is recommended to include children in choosing and preparing fruits and vegetables to increase the likelihood that they will eat them.
  • Make healthy options more convenient. Parents should have healthy snacks and drinks available for children to easily grab. The CDC recommends reducing high-fat and high-sugar, or salty snacks with low-fat and low-sugar treats such as a medium-size apple or banana, one cup of blueberries or grapes, or even one cup of carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tablespoons of hummus.
  •  Talk with your pediatrician. Barna encouraged parents to use their child’s pediatrician as a resource to help manage their child’s weight.
“Be a good role model and make any lifestyle changes together as a whole family,” Barna said. “It works a bit better if we make gradual, sustainable changes.”

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