Obesity and Our Kids

LaShon's two children weigh more than they should for their age and height. LaShon works late and they are home alone after school. Rosa is too tired after work to go to the store to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for the kids to snack on. Plus, her kids would not eat them anyway. They want junk food. They also sit in front of the computer or TV when they are home. So they don't get any exercise. She wants to help them, but what can she do?

Obesity (being extremely overweight) is a problem for children in the United States. But it affects Latino kids more than any other group. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that about 30 percent of African-American children and teens ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.  Obese children are more likely to have illnesses like asthma, diabetes and heart disease for their entire lives.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) offers the following tips to help your child have a healthy weight.

Is My Child Obese?

If you think that your child is obese, see your child's doctor. If your child is obese, the doctor can suggest ways to get your child to a healthy weight. He or she will give you information about healthy eating, physical activity, and weight control. You may also be referred to other health care experts who can help overweight children.

Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless a doctor tells you to. If children do not eat enough, they may not grow and learn as well as they should.

Listen and Show You Care

Children's feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents feel about them. Tell your child that he or she is loved, special and important. Listen to your child's concerns about his or her weight. Show you understand and encourage your child to try to make healthy changes.

A Healthy Diet Starts With You

You can support healthy eating habits by doing these things:

  • Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried). Let your child choose them at the store.
  • Don't buy soft drinks and high-fat or high-calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy. These snacks may be okay once in a while, but offer healthy snacks more often.
  • Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. Breakfast provides your child with the energy he or she needs to listen and learn in school. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and craving less healthy foods.
  • Eat fast food less often. When you do visit a fast food restaurant, get your family to choose the healthier options, such as salads with low-fat dressing or small sandwiches without cheese or mayonnaise.
  • Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Low-fat milk and milk products are important for your child's development.
  • Limit the amount of fats in your family's diet. Instead, get most of your fats from fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
  • Serve a new food more than once. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it.
  • Try not to use food as a reward. Promising dessert if a child eats his or her vegetables, for example, says that you think vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they think are less valuable.
  • Serve smaller portions. Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.
  • Counter high-fat/high-sugar marketing tricks. Usually these products are associated with cartoon characters, offer free toys, and come in bright packages. Talk with your child about the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods—even if these foods are not often advertised on TV or in stores.

Get Kids Moving

Kids need about an hour of exercise a day, but this does not have to happen all at once. Several short 10- or even 5-minute periods of activity throughout the day are just as good. If your children are not used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day.  FUN physical activities that kids choose to do on their own are often best.

Remember, a preteen's body is not ready for adult-style physical activity. Do not make your child go on long jogs, use an exercise bike or treadmill, or lift heavy weights.

Here are some ways to help your child move every day:

  • Set a good example. If your child sees that you are physically active and that you have fun doing it, he or she is more likely to be active throughout life.
  • Get your child to join a sports team or class at school or the local recreation center.
  • Respect your child's needs. If your child doesn't want to do school sports, help him or her do other fun things like playing tag, jumping rope, or dancing to his or her favorite music.
  • Be active together as a family. Assign active chores such as making the beds, washing the car, or vacuuming. Plan a family trip to the zoo, bike ride, walks through a local park.

Turn It Off

Set limits on the amount of time your family spends watching TV, playing video games, and being on the computer. Have your child to get up and move during the breaks.  Do not let your child snack when the TV is on.

Be a Role Model

Children often copy what they see. Choose healthy foods and activities for yourself. Your children will learn to follow healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Click on the links below to learn more.

Sources

Overweight and Obesity in African American Youth, Leadership for Healthy Communities Fact Sheet, February 2009, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents, Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health

Help Your Child Grow Up Healthy and Strong,” Publication, Office of Minority Health

"Kids In Charge of Kalories," Healthy Habits for Children, Anthem Health Plans

This information is for education only. It is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.

Reviewed by:

Richard L. Lane MD., Managing Medical Director, KY

Lynette Cooper RN CMCN  Legal Specialist Sr