Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition sweeping across America. More than 16 percent of children are considered obese. The risk of obesity increases even more as your children get older. From the ages of 6 to 11, at least one child in five is overweight. And, over the last two decades, this number has increased by more than 50 percent and the number of obese children has doubled. This is particularly alarming because the extra pounds can lead to several health problems that are usually confined to adults. These may include high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Most importantly, childhood obesity can sometimes lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

A recent statistical analysis conducted by the American Journal of Health and Behavior stated that there is a correlation between high body mass index (BMI) and cigarette smoking in young adulthood. Analysts found that obese adolescents may smoke cigarettes to improve social standing and to fit into a certain social group. Also, others may smoke cigarettes because they are thought to suppress appetite and help with weight loss. So, it is important to find out whether your child has the tendency to become obese early in their childhood.

How do you know whether your child is overweight?

The best way to know whether your child is overweight is through your child’s doctor. The doctor will be able to measure your child’s weight and height and compute their BMI, which will allow them to compare this value to standard values. The doctor will also consider the child’s growth and age pattern. However, the task can become more difficult because children can grow in unpredictable spurts.

Being overweight is usually the result of unhealthy eating patterns for most children – too many calories and too little physical activity. Since this habit develops from childhood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin at an early age.

Are parents responsible for scheduling a healthy diet plan for their obese children?

As it is rightly said – ‘healthy eating begins at home’. However, parents should not immediately make changes to their child’s diet based solely on their perception of being overweight. In fact, you should not put your child on a strict diet unless instructed by a physician for medical reasons. A restrictive diet may not supply the required energy and nutrients needed for normal growth and development. The focus should be mainly to maintain the right weight, while the child grows normally in height.

How do parents promote a healthy lifestyle?

Children can be encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle through various ways. And, if you’re one of the readers curious enough to learn more about them, here is the list for you…

Plan some sort of physical activity

Be sensitive to your child’s needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. So, it is important to help your child find physical activities that they enjoy and aren’t too difficult. You could plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise including walking, swimming, biking, or playing some type of sport. If your children see that you are physically active and having fun, they are more likely to stay active for the rest of their lives.

Encourage them to play outdoor sports

Make an effort to reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities such as watching television. Most importantly, restrict your children from developing the habit of playing video games and motivate them to choose at least one outdoor sport to join.

Walk, don’t ride

Discard the habit of hopping in the car to give your children a ride to a destination that is a short distance away. This may create a context in which the child thinks of riding rather than walking as the primary means of transportation, no matter how short the distance.

Schedule consistent health checkup

Make sure that your pediatrician performs a comprehensive physical examination, answers all your questions and addresses concerns about your child’s healthy development, manages your child’s immunizations and monitors your child’s growth (height, weight and BMI) to ensure that it is within a healthy range.

Start cutting calories

Whether it is cutting 64 calories or 120 calories per day, help your child set a manageable personal goal to reduce their caloric intake by a certain amount. Talk to your pediatrician to set up an appropriate calorie intake program. Discourage them from eating

  • Fast foods
  • Sugary drinks
  • Beverages high in sugar, fat and calories

Help them to get into the habit of eating

  • Whole grain foods
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Lean meat, fish and eggs
  • Plenty of water

However, don’t deprive your children of occasional treats. This can make them more likely to overeat.

Avoid teasing your child about their weight

Don’t make comments about your child being overweight. Do not ridicule or belittle them. Some children may not take this sportingly and may tend to choose the wrong path (smoking, taking drugs, supplements) to lose weight. Instead, focus on healthy lifestyle changes and make sure that your child does not relate their self-worth, or the value of other people to body size.

The department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aims to minimize the nation’s obesity rates by the year 2020. Helping your child set a personal goal to reduce their caloric intake can protect them from the risk of childhood obesity.