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All About Childhood Obesity

Is your child obese? Read on to find out if your child might have a weight problem and how to help him reach a healthy weight.

What is obesity?

Children who are more than 20 percent above the ideal weight for their particular height and age are considered obese. If a child is more than 40 percent overweight, usually his physician will recommend a physician-guided weight-loss program.

If a child gains weight suddenly or steadily as she grows, especially during or just prior to puberty, this should not necessarily be cause for alarm. During this time, a child's need for calories increases, and rapid growth is common. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), weight gain during this time is generally only problematic if it falls into the categorization of 20 percent or more above ideal weight for the child's height and age.

According to the AAP, childhood obesity can put a person at risk for many serious medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and gall bladder disease.

Aside from medical risks, obese children may suffer from poor self-esteem if they're teased, excluded from games, or bullied by other children because of their weight. To help obese children who have these problems, bolster their self-esteem by helping them find supportive friends who accept them as they are, and provide access to activities they enjoy and do well.

  • Consuming more calories than are expended
  • Family history
  • Metabolic or hormonal problems
  • Inactivity
  • Overeating or snacking to deal with emotions like stress, depression, anxiety, and even happiness

  • Talk with your pediatrician, who will consult growth charts to determine the most appropriate target weight range for your youngster. This ideal range will depend on a number of factors, including your youngster's sex, age, height, and body build.
  • If recommended by the pediatrician, the child should begin a physician-guided weight-loss program.
  • Consult with a nutritionist to educate yourself and your child about healthy eating habits.
  • Ensure your child is eating a balanced diet with enough vitamins and minerals.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of water.
  • Provide your child with fun opportunities for regular exercise.
  • Limit your child's television and video game time.
  • Keep low-fat, low-sugar, and healthy snacks at home.
  • Do not serve or buy fatty, sugary, or salty snacks at home.
  • Be supportive.

Fad diets are not healthy for obese youngsters. A far better approach instead is for an overweight child to consume a variety of foods like fresh vegetables, baked poultry and fish, and fruit that are relatively low in calories but have a high nutritional value. While you can limit portion sizes, don't severely restrict your child's caloric intake or you may risk interfering with his normal growth.

It's not easy to lose weight, and your child will benefit greatly from your support and encouragement. If your child is upset about changing his diet, or is frustrated by increased patterns of physical activity, help him get back on course by talking with him and spending time brainstorming lifestyle solutions and alternatives.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's health.