How To Help The Overweight Child

Last Editorial Review: 6/18/2003

Children of the 1990s appear to be more overweight and less fit when compared to children of the 1960s. Many factors affect this trend in America's youth.

The primary reason for increasing fatness in today's children is lack of physical activity. Today's school-aged child spends an average of 26 hours each week watching television. Television watching is time taken away from physical activity.

Physical education in school declines as children proceed through the grade levels. Nearly 100 percent of fifth graders have a physical education class. The percent of students engaged in physical education classes drops to 50 percent during eleventh and twelfth grades. Most school- aged children do not have sufficient physical activity to build cardiorespiratory fitness.

Diets of school-aged children can affect obesity, as well. Studies indicate that children have too much fat in their diets. Eating diets high in fat and being less physically active leads to lifelong patterns that affect health status in older adult years.

On the other hand, parents and society may demand too much of children when it comes to controlling weight. Children as young as the fourth grade show increased anxiety about their body weights. "Dieting" behavior appears in children as young as nine.

Parents should use caution when dealing with an overweight child. The first rule of thumb is: Don't place children on a weight-reducing diet. Instead, focus on dietary variety. Diet planning should take place within the guidelines found below.

Fats, Oils & Sweets Use Sparingly
Milk, Yogurt, & Cheese Group 2 - 3 Servings
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, & Nuts Group 2 - 3 Servings
Vegetable Group 3 - 5 Servings
Fruit Group 2 - 4 Servings
Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group 6 - 11 Servings

Do not isolate children from family meals by preparing separate food. Family menus should be appropriate for all family members, including an overweight child.

Parents should be leaders in setting positive examples in eating and exercising. Encourage an overweight child to participate in activities with you. Outdoor activities such as playing tag, swinging, walking, bicycling, flying a kite, swimming, building a snow fort and others boost energy requirements for a child and help balance energy intake with energy output.

Plan family outings that boost physical activity. Hiking, picnicking, trips to the park playground, bicycle trips and bowling are some ideas.

For more, please visit the Nutrition Center.

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Last Editorial Review: 6/18/2003