Feature Archive

13 Weight-Loss Tips for Kids

Obesity has become an epidemic in American kids, too. Here are some ways to promote weight loss in your kids.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed ByBrunilda Nazario,MD
on Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Newspaper articles and television reports constantly remind us that a growing number of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. And many parents are being told to put their kids on a diet or risk that they will develop serious health problems. But what is the best way to get a child to lose weight and keep it off?

To get to the bottom of it, WebMD asked experts to cull a sure-fire list of diet dos and don'ts to help families triumph over obesity . And it's about time.

The latest statistics show that as many as 30% of children aged 6-19 in the U.S. are overweight or obese, which puts them at increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes and emotional problems in adolescence and adulthood.

In children, body fatness changes over time as children grow, and boys and girls differ in the amount of fatness considered to be normal. Overweight is defined as having a weight that is greater than 95% of children of the same age and sex.

Obese kids who remain heavy through adolescence tend to stay that way in adulthood. The resulting illnesses associated with obesity in adulthood -- diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and several cancers -- now claim an estimated half-million lives per year, costing $100 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Here's what the experts have to say about how to reverse these alarming trends:

Do be a good role model. "The No. 1 thing that parents can do is to be a good role model for their children," says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn., and author of The Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim. "Parents so often unwittingly set their kids up for failure," she says. "If there are only chips, Ho-Hos, and Twinkies and no fruit or vegetables when your kids look for snacks, how can they succeed?" Instead, she suggests, line your refrigerator and cabinets with fresh fruits, nuts, low-fat cheese, and things for kids to snack on besides chips, dip, or low-fiber, high fat, high-calorie type of snacks.

In a 2000 survey conducted by the CDC, close to 80% of adults reported eating fewer than the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily -- not good role-model behavior.

Do be positive. "Instead of saying, 'Lose weight', say, 'Let's be healthy and start taking care of our bodies,' McCallister says. "Be positive and focus on the foods you can eat, not the ones that you cannot. Say, 'Let's go pick out fruits and make a fruit salad,' not 'Don't eat this or that.' Instead of saying, 'We have to exercise,' say, 'Lets go to the park.'" She stresses that "we can't approach this from a cosmetic standpoint and we can't even imply that this is about self-worth. Say, 'You want to be healthy and we want to keep you around for a long time.'"

Do make healthy eating a family affair. "Make whatever plans or food preparation appropriate for the whole family so you don't single out the overweight child as having a special meal, which is like saying, 'You are fat, so you can't have this serving of mashed potatoes,'" says Arlington, Va.-based obesity expert Denise Bruner, chairman of the board of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. And let your kids help you prepare the meal. "Whether male or female, your child may have to live on his/her own one day and should know how to cook because relying on fast foods has certainly contributed to the obesity epidemic," Bruner says. "Make cooking fun and interesting." And when you are finished, eat together. A family that eats together, eats better, according to a recent study in the journal Archives of Family Medicine. Children who report frequent family dinners have healthier diets than their peers who don't, the study showed.

Do avoid portion distortion. "When serving the food, institute portion control, as in 'this is what you are allocated,' not a buffet-type or family-style situations," says Bruner. Potentially making this endeavor easier is the fact that Kraft Foods has announced plans to change serving sizes on its food labels. Many obesity experts suggest the supersizing of portions at fast-food restaurants plays a role in the obesity crisis in America.