Every day, in doctors’ offices throughout the country, parents hear the dreaded words: Your child is overweight. In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Nearly one in five school-aged children and young people ages 6 to 19 in the United States is obese. By making a concerted effort to change the child’s lifestyle, it could be an eye-opener for parents as well. The change should be a whole-family experience and can be enjoyable.
Start with small changes
The statistics are a harsh reality, but Dr. Brent Jensen, pediatrician with OakLeaf Clinics in Eau Claire, said parents have the opportunity to change that diagnosis by implementing small changes in nutrition and activity. “We are seeing kids heavier at a younger age. Parents do need to be concerned,” he said. “We go about it by offering healthy and nutritious foods, not offering seconds and sweets should be sometimes foods.”
Krieger recommends setting aside time each week to plan healthy meals that fit your family’s schedules and nutritional needs. Prepping can include cooking enough to have leftovers, assembling necessary ingredients, or washing and chopping servings of fruits and vegetables.
“Make prepping a family activity,” she says. “It’s a great time to teach kids about making healthy choices. If you have any questions, reach out to one of our dietitians. We’re happy to help.”
Know where hidden sugar lies
Aside from the common mistakes of too many fast-food meals and candy bars, Jensen said hidden sugar is a concerning factor when it comes to childhood obesity. He cites pop, fruit snacks and juice where there is more sugar than a parent might expect. It works better to talk to your kids about just cutting out a sugary beverage, or a second helping at mealtime. Those are attainable goals.
Keep family meals consistent
Jensen said parents should let children know at a young age that the whole family gets the same thing for dinner. If they refuse, bring it back out later when they complain of hunger, or offer a fruit or vegetable. “Offer healthy, nutritious, wholesome foods and she will find something that she will eat, eventually,” he said.
Conversely, some parents have children who are picky eaters. Those parents need to remember that if their child doesn’t eat dinner for a night or two, they are not going to starve.
“Don’t get into a battle at the dinner table and don’t give in to the short-order cook mentality,” he said. “As soon as you start doing those things, the child knows they can get what they want by holding out.”
Understand the root of the cause
Genetics does play a role in weight to some extent, but Jensen said it’s difficult to tell if child obesity is because of family history or a history of poor habits.
“Are the parents overweight because they’ve passed those genetics on to their child, or because the parents are making food choices that are probably not appropriate for themselves?” Jensen said. “If it’s the latter, they’re allowing their children to have the same not-great habits that we all have.”
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