For parents of children with weight problems, it can be a confusing situation. Should you restrict their food or just leave well enough alone and hope they grow out of it? The key is to help your children adopt healthful habits that will stay with them through life.
Childhood weight problems often carry over into adulthood, and overweight adults are at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Worse, conditions once associated only with adults, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a major risk factor for a stroke and heart attack), are now increasingly being found in some children and adolescents.
Several factors may be to blame. In rare cases, a medical problem may be the cause. If you suspect your child has a weight problem or is developing one, make an appointment with their pediatrician.
The most common factors in childhood obesity may include the following:
Too much television, computer time, and video games can take away time from doing physical activity as well as proving more opportunities for snacking.
Today's time-pressed families are relying more and more on convenience foods and fast foods, many of which are high in calories, especially from carbohydrates. High fat intake from burgers, fries, and pizza plays a role, but many kids are also gulping down hundreds of calories a day in the form of sodas, sports drinks, and sweetened juice drinks.
Overly-large serving portions at both restaurants and at home have also likely played a role. Additionally, many schools may not provide healthy lunches.
Research has shown that children with overweight parents and/or siblings are more likely to be overweight themselves. While genes may play a role, it may also be that parents pass on unhealthful behaviors and habits to their children.
The best advice for parents is to help your kids eat healthfully, be active, and build self-esteem. The best way to do this is by being a good role model and following these dos and don'ts alongside your children:
The best advice for any family is to eat and enjoy healthful food together and to exercise together. Kids who learn healthful behaviors as part of a family lifestyle are much more likely to continue those healthful habits throughout their lives.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Dietitians of Canada
Be a healthy role model for children. Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/sites/default/files/tentips/DGTipsheet12BeAHealthyRoleModel.pdf. Updated June 2011. Accessed March 23, 2016.
NHLBI integrated guidelines for pediatric cardiovascular risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 12, 2013. Accessed March 23, 2016.
Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 14, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2016.
Overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity. Updated June 19, 2015. Accessed March 23, 2016.
10/8/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Laurson KR, Eisenmann JC, Welk GJ, Wickel EE, Gentile Da, Walsh DA. Combined influence of physical activity and screen time recommendations on childhood overweight. J Pediatr. 2008;153(2):209-214.
6/25/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Anderson SE, Whitaker RC. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125(3):420-428.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 3/23/2016