The responsibility of controlling a child's weight and leading an active lifestyle belongs not just to the child carrying the flab. Parents have a big role to play too. Faith Chang of HealthAnswers reports.
What Is Childhood Obesity?
Children in Australia are getting bigger and fatter. The incidence of childhood obesity has almost doubled in the past 10 years, according to Kay Gibbons, a senior dietician at Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. In the United States, between five and 10 percent of children are obese. Between 13 and 23 percent of all adolescents are obese, and it has been noted that obese teenagers tend to grow into obese adults.
A person is considered obese when his weight is 20 percent (or 25 percent for women) or more over the maximum weight desirable for their height. The development of obesity can be simply explained through the energy equation: 'Energy stored + Energy Intake - Energy expenditure'. Thus, the increasing prevalence of obesity relates to caloric imbalance; Australian children are eating more and exercising less.
To find out if your child is obese, divide his weight in kilogrammes by the square of his height in metres, giving you his body mass index (BMI).
Those with a BMI of more than 30 are considered obese. Or use the weight-for-height chart. As a guide, a child is obese if his weight is more than 20 percent above his ideal weight for height.
What Happens When A Child Is Obese?
Carrying around too much body fat can cause physical problems such as hip and knee joint pain, obstructive sleep apnoea (disrupting the child's sleep in the night and making him sleepy in the day, and unable to concentrate in class). These problems may be accompanied with more serious health conditions such as diabetes when he grows older.
Your child is also more likely to have high cholesterol levels than a child of normal weight. This means that he chances of getting hypertension, heart disease and stroke will increase as an adult. The bad news is that about 30 percent of obese children carry their bulk into adulthood. If your child is obese, he is at risk of chronic disease in later life.
For the obese child, however, the immediate problem is more than a physical one.
Obese children face the risks of being socially ridiculed and teased mercilessly. Children often have a negative perception of their obese peers. Kay notes: "Childhood obesity affects health in both the short and long term. some of th emost serious consequences are related to social issues such as teasing, and the loss of self esteem this causes extends into adult life."
Helping Your Child
Ironically, it is also the use of psychology that can intervene the obese condition and help weight loss. However, this must be done with care and not seen as the sole responsibility of the child.
Reinforcing and inculcating a healthy lifestyle, which comprise frequent exercise and a well-balanced diet ought to involve the entire family. And often the readiness of both the parents and the child is equally important to the success of any weight-loss programme. This is because habits, whether children want to break out of unhealthy snacking or adopt healthy ones like exercising, are often associated with role modelling.
A Healthanswers consultant psychologist comments that "children learn to like foods they see often and are familiar with. They learn to like the foods their parents like and to dislike the foods that their parents dislike. Also, parents also often expect the obese child to 'eat more' and 'do less', thus, reinforcing such unhealthy habits."
It is generally not advisable to use food as a form of reward, unless the family has been practicing it all along with the child. For example, if the family allows the child to go to McDonald's twice a month, the visit to fast-food should not be increased to three times a month if the child performs well in school.
Instead, parents should tell the child that the rules have changed. Rights to certain lifestyles have now become privileges. Parents should use other forms of activities other than food as rewards.
Start The Workout!
It is better to tackle the obesity problem when your child is young. here are a few pointers to help your child lose weight:
Ensure that both you and your child are committed to make changes to your lifestyle.
Make fitness a family affair. Do outdoor activities and eat healthy food together.
Be a good role model. Children learn by observation, they do more if parents encourage them to do more, and eat more if their parents say so.
Get in touch with professionals, friends who have been through it before. Self-help books or other resources are also good.
Make a written and verbal commitment
Get the child to visualise the benefits of a trimmer self, and motivate him by telling him that he may be able to run faster, or to join a football club.
Make him keep a daily record of what he eats and of what exercises he does. This keeps him in touch with the pitfalls and obstacles, helping to motivate him to change.
Reward the child with something he likes if he shows good eating or dietary habits.
Limit the amount of time he spends in front of the TV or playing computer games.
"Fat-proof" the environment. For instance, stock your fridge with healthy, rather than unhealthy food.
Get them to eat slowly and consume fewer unhealthy snacks.
Finally, don't get impatient with your child.
Reward efforts rather than success.
Losing weight involves changing habits, and is a long process. The goal should be to keep fit, not just losing weight per se.
Try to treat setbacks as learning opportunities.
Read about or discuss health and fitness issues with your child every month to keep his motivation high.
Watch out for negative thoughts and attitudes.
The harder you try to trim the fat overnight, the more likely your child will have an unhealthy perception of food. How this happens will be discussed in tomorrow's article.
Date reviewed: 26 June 2000