Fri | Dec 8, 2023

How to help reduce childhood obesity

Published:Wednesday | April 19, 2023 | 12:39 AM

YOU WANT the best for your child, including a healthy body and strong self-esteem. If you think your child might be overweight, it is important to talk with your doctor or paediatrician.

In the United States, close to 20 per cent of children ages two to 19 are living with obesity, including nearly 13 per cent of children under age six. Obesity is more common in certain populations, including children from middle income families and those growing up in homes headed by adults with lower education levels.

Health care professionals are seeing earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, and obesity-related depression and social isolation among children and teens. The longer a person suffers with obesity, the more significant obesity-related risk factors become.

Dr Rivane Chybar Virgo, medical doctor and health and wellness coach, said staying active is key to maintaining a healthy weight, and the sedentary time that children spend on computers, tablets and phones should be limited.

“Treatment goals are different for children at different ages. For instance, for younger children, the goal is weight maintenance, not loss, since they are getting taller. Rapid weight loss can cause changes in metabolism, with an impact on a child’s growth and learning ability,” she said.

Dr Chybar Virgo said treating obesity in children and teens starts with addressing nutrition and exercise. If, despite those measures, obesity becomes worse or the child develops weight-related health problems, they may recommend intensified therapy. She recommends the prevention of overweight and obesity in children and teens include the following:

• Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing on a child’s weight.

• Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity set an example, so a child is more likely to do the same.

• Encourage physical activity. Children should have 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may promote weight loss and provide weight maintenance.

• Reduce screen time in front of phones, computers and TV to less than one to two hours daily.

• Encourage children and teens to eat only when hungry and to eat slowly.

• Do not use food as a reward or withhold food as a punishment.

• Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit and vegetables instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.

• Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

• Encourage children and teens to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar, such as soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice drinks.

• Eat meals together as a family. Family meals can create healthier eating habits.

“Children do like to be active and play. As adults, we have to be good role models, and do what we say, and encourage them to move with you. You cannot have a sedentary lifestyle and expect the children to be active. When they see this, they will become confused and will not take you seriously,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

Exercise, mild to moderate activity is essential for all children, regardless of weight. Children diagnosed with obesity can and should exercise, but for vigorous activities, she advises obtaining physician clearance first to help ensure their safety.

“At least an hour a day is recommended and obese children may actually need more. It takes 40 minutes of fast walking for a child to burn off the calories in one juice box,” she said.