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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 15 percent of children ages 6 to 11 in the United States are considered overweight and 15 percent of teenagers (ages 12 to 19) are overweight. More people are now overweight than 15 years ago. This increase is seen in both sexes and all ages. Individuals who are obese as adolescents will most likely remain obese as they become older.
Obesity is defined as a generalized accumulation of body fat. Obesity is determined by measuring both the height and weight of the child. A child or adolescent is considered obese if he/she is significantly over the ideal weight for his/her height. Overweight is defined as increased body size with increased lean body mass and without excess accumulation of body fat. A uniform standard to separate obesity from overweight has not been established. Research studies suggest that overweight children and adolescents may become overweight adults.
The following are some of the factors that may contribute to overweight adolescents:
- easy availability of food, especially high-calorie snack food
- parents' attitudes towards food
- an increase in the eating of fast-foods
- using food as a reward or to change behaviors
- lack of exercise
- television watching and snacking
- not knowing how to eat healthy
- heredity (the size of parents and other family members )
The basis of treatment for obesity in children and adolescents involves diet changes and exercise. It is important for parents and the adolescent to be ready and willing to make the change. Generally, weight loss is not recommended for babies and young children who are still growing and developing. The goal of treatment for these children is to maintain their weight while they continue to grow taller. Weight reduction may be recommended for obese adolescents who have completed their growth. The following are some of the general guidelines that may be followed in treating your child and adolescent:
For children under 2 years of age:
- The goal is to slow down the rate of weight gain, not to lose weight.
- Decrease the amount of juice to 4 ounces a day.
- Limit the amounts of high-calorie foods, such as desserts, puddings, and ice cream.
- Use a pacifier in-between feedings to help satisfy the child's need to suck on something.
- See a nutritionist.
- Monitor weight gain regularly.
For children between 2 and 7 years of age:
- The goal for this age group is to maintain a baseline weight, not to lose weight. As the child grows taller, a slow decrease in weight may be noticed.
- After the age of 2, it is permissible to reduce the amount of fat in the child's diet.
- Increase the child's intake of grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Decrease the intake of high-calorie foods and desserts.
- Use low-fat dairy products.
For children older than 7 years of age:
- The goal is to maintain baseline weight initially, and then add slow changes in eating and exercise to achieve slow weight loss as recommended by your child's physician.
- At this age, a child or adolescent should follow adult guidelines, and limit fat intake.
- Eat a variety of foods that are low in calories. Consider the following:
- Your child needs enough calories to maintain his/her energy level, but no more than he/she can burn off. This is called an energy balance.
- If he/she takes in more calories than he/she burns, he/she gains weight.
- If he/she takes in fewer calories than he/she burns, he/she loses weight.
- If he/she balances the two, he/she maintains his/her weight.
- Even when dieting, however, calories should not be cut back so much that your child's energy needs are not met. The number of calories your child needs depends primarily on age, gender, and activity level.
- Decrease consumption of high-fat foods.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Eat less sweets, candy, cookies, chips, and sodas.
- Change to skim milk.
- Refer to support groups.
- Do not use food as a reward. Use other activities as a reward for good behavior.
- Have family meal time and snack times.
- Provide only healthy options for your child to choose from. For example, stock in the refrigerator apples or yogurt, rather than cookies and pies.
- Have the entire family become involved on a healthy eating plan, not just the child or adolescent who is overweight.
- Encourage activities that promote exercise, such as riding a bike, walking, or skating.
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