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Helping your overweight child

Posted on: 24-01-2006

Overweight has become a major problem affecting our children. Nowadays, our kids are spending a lot of time in front of the TV, computer or video game screens. Besides, mothers have less free time to prepare home cooked and nutritious meals.
From fast food to electronics our children have become the victims of a sedentary lifestyle which is affecting them physically and emotionally!

Is your child overweight?
Children's body fatness (fat distribution in the body) changes over the years as they grow. Moreover, Boys and Girls differ in their body fatness as they mature.
Your child's measures (height and weight) are taken by his doctor; then by referring to a special standardized chart (called growth chart) the doctor classifies your child into one of the following 4 main categories:

•  Underweight
•  Normal
•  At risk for overweight
•  Overweight

What causes Overweight?
There are a number of factors, either alone or combined, that contribute to becoming overweight:

•  Families' daily schedule is becoming so jam packed that there is little time to prepare healthier meals. Quick and easy meals are favored regardless of their nutritional value. Moreover portion size at home and out have drastically increased (Big Mac, Buy one pizza and get one free….).

•  Sedentary lifestyle : Children spend more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, instead of actively playing outside. Besides, television is a major culprit. Researches have shown that kids younger than 8 years spend an average 2.5 hours watching TV or playing video games and kids 8 years and up spend 4.5 hours plopped in front of the TV. Kids who watch 4 hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less. Having a TV set in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight.

•  Genetics : A child's risk of obesity greatly increases if one or more parent is obese or overweight. As they help determine other traits in the body, genes help also determine how the latter stores and burn fat. And since genes are passed from one generation to another multiple members of a family are found struggling with weight problem.

What are the effects of Overweight?

Overweight children are at risk for developing medical problems that have a direct impact on their quality of life including:

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, abnormal blood lipid level and type 2 Diabetes

  • Bone and joints problems
  • Shortness of breath that makes exercise and sports more difficult
  • Restlessness or disordered sleep patterns
  • Tendency to mature earlier: Overweight kids may be taller and more sexually mature than their peers, overweight girls may have irregular menstrual cycles and fertility problems in adulthood.
  • Liver and gallbladder disease

Preventing or treating obesity among children may reduce the risk of developing these conditions as they get older.

Low self-esteem might also result from being teased, bullied or rejected by peers. Overweight children are often the last to be chosen as playmates even as early as preschool.

How to overcome overweight problems of your child?

•  Avoid rewarding children for good behavior or trying to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats.
•  If kids are satisfied, do not force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they are hungry.
•  Do not eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks because children may rebel and overeat these forbidden foods outside.
•  Though the exact mechanism is not known yet, breastfeeding is recommended because it helps children to control their own intake.
•  Encourage kids to be physically active every day. Don't force any kind of sports or activity but help them find what they enjoy doing.
•  Encourage children to avoid fast food and steer them toward healthier choices like grilled meats and chicken, salads and meals of smaller sizes. Try to include a lot of fruits and vegetables in their diet and avoid fried food.

•  Cut down on TV, computer, video games time and discourage eating while watching TV.
•  Encourage kids to eat breakfast every day; skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tiered and looking for less healthy food later in the day.
Never put your child by your own on a weight loss diet. If indicated, your child's health care provider will refer you to a dietician who will prescribe the convenient diet for your child's age and weight.

At our schools , the weight and height of each learner is measured during the medical check up conducted on yearly basis. The caregiver of the learner, found to be overweight, is notified through a form sent by the school physician .Many parents choose to consult their child's pediatrician, who gives them the necessary recommendations, while others refer their kids to a dietician for follow-up.

Healthy eating and physical activity are keys to your child's well being. Eating too much and exercising too little can lead to overweight and health problems that can follow children through their adult years.The role of the parents is to incorporate healthy habits into the family's daily life thus modeling a healthy lifestyle for children.

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