The Overweight Child
Are you beginning to wonder or worry that your youngster may be overweight? Even though some overweight infants grow up to be overweight children — and possibly adults — many also do not. It is difficult to tell if a child is overweight because kids grow at different rates and go through numerous growth spurts. Let your pediatrician be the judge of whether your child is in the healthy range. The doctor will use growth charts to measure your child's height and weight to make a proper determination.
Never assume that because your child looks overweight, he must have a weight problem. Never restrict your child's diet to help him lose weight. Drastically limiting what a child eats can be harmful to his health and can interfere with proper growth and development. If you feel there is a problem, take your child to his pediatrician before taking any type of action.
What to Do
Children become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of any of these factors. In rare cases, a medical problem can cause a child to become overweight.
If your doctor feels there is a problem, you may need to make some changes in your child's food habits. It is more important to help your child adopt healthy eating and exercise habits than to count pounds lost.
To help your child achieve a healthier weight, try the following:
Ensure your child is eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and not eating too many empty calories or junk foods.
After your child reaches the age of two, use fat-free or low-fat milk as opposed to whole milk.
Make sure you child has plenty of opportunity to be physically active.
Seek the advice of a health-care professional, such as a registered dietitian, to learn what and how much your child should be eating.
Refrain from rewarding your child for good behavior with food such as ice cream or fast food.
Keep in mind that adult approaches to weight loss are not fit for children.
Support your child and encourage her, no matter what her weight.
Start early in childhood, teaching your child good nutrition habits, selection of healthy low-fat snacks, and the importance of physical activity.
Monitor the time your child spends watching television or sitting at a computer.
Make it a point to include good nutrition and exercise as a family affair. Plan lower-fat meals for the entire family, have more nutritious snacks in the house, and plan fun family activities.
Beware of using food as a reward for a certain accomplishment, as a substitute for affection, or as a compensation for a disappointment. Use other avenues as rewards.
Make sure your child's portions are a child's size as opposed to an adult's. Use smaller plates for children so you and your child are not tempted to fill up a large adult--size plate.
Stock your kitchen with low-fat and low-calorie snack foods that are quickly available when your child is hungry and grabbing something to eat. Eliminate most high-fat, high-calorie foods from the house.
Instead of indulging in heavy snacking, make meals your child's primary source of calories.
Do not force your child to clean her plate or to continue eating when she voices that she is full.
Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and telling her she cannot have certain foods. Instead, teach your child how to fit all types of food into a healthy eating pattern and teach her how to eat in moderation.
Make a family rule that eating is only allowed in the kitchen or dining room to keep kids from constantly snacking on high-calorie foods while watching television.
At regular visits, your pediatrician will use growth charts to monitor your child's growth rate. By plotting a child's height and weight measurements on these charts, doctors are able to compare growth patterns with data collected on thousands of other U.S. children. This helps to determine whether a child's growth is normal compared with others of the same age. Boys and girls need to be plotted on different charts because of the difference in their growth rates and patterns. There are two sets of standard charts for both boys and girls: one for infants up to thirty-six months and another for children ages two to twenty years. The charts are a series of percentile curves that show the distribution of growth measurements of children from across the country.
Older children are measured for height for age, weight for age, weight for height and — a recent addition — body mass index (BMI). An infant usually is measured for length for age, weight for age, weight for length, and head circumference for age.
A growth chart contains seven curves that all follow the same pattern. Each curve represents a different percentile: 5th, 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th, and 95th. The 50th percentile line represents an average value for the child's age. If, for example, a child's head circumference puts him in the 90th percentile, this means that his measurement is greater than or equal to the measurements of 90 percent of children in the country in his age category. The remaining 10 percent of children that age have head measurements that are bigger.
Just because a child has a high or low measurement at one visit does not necessarily mean there is a problem. Growth charts can be valuable tools. However, it is important not to focus too much on any one measure. Growth charts mean more when they are examined over a period of time. They then reveal a pattern of development. It is the pattern that tells you whether a child is growing properly in relation to other children of the same age and also shows how the child is progressing from measurement to measurement. Ask your doctor to share your child's growth chart progression with you at regular visits.