Childhood obesity is on the rise, with more than 17% of all American children being classified as clinically obese and many more well on their way.
But how can you as a parent identify if your child is at an unhealthy weight? And when, if ever, is it right for your child to lose weight? I asked child obesity expert and registered dietitian Alison Massey MS, RD, LDN, CDE of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore to find out the answers.
“If you are concerned about your child’s weight, it is important to discuss it with a healthcare professional,” states Massey.
Your child’s pediatrician or dietitian can help assess their body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of their height in proportion to their weight. BMI can then be plotted on a growth chart. If your child’s BMI is above the 85th percentile, they are considered at risk of becoming overweight. Above the 95th percentile is where your child would be classified as overweight.
Although a BMI above the 95% classifies your child as overweight, not every overweight child should strive to lose weight. Massey cautions,
“The child’s pediatrician or a registered dietitian can best determine what is most appropriate for the child. Children are different from adults because they are still growing. Many children need to focus on weight maintenance and making healthy food and lifestyle choices instead of weight loss.”
Typically, younger children who are slightly overweight will be encouraged to maintain their weight as they grown in height whereas an older child or teen who has less growing to do may be encouraged to gradually lose weight to bring their BMI below the 85th percentile. The rate at which your child should lose weight should be determined by your healthcare provider and will vary based on your child’s age, current weight, and any accompanying medical conditions such as elevated cholesterol levels or blood pressure.
Helping Your Child Without Hurting Their Psyche
Many parents are concerned about how to approach the topic of weight management with their child. Will the topic affect their child’s self esteem? Can focusing on healthy eating and weight loss trigger disordered eating? According to Massey, if done in the right way, focusing on weight management and healthy eating can be a positive experience for your child as well as your whole family.
“Don’t single out your overweight child. It is important to focus on creating a healthy environment for the entire family instead of just restricting only your overweight child. Everyone in the family will benefit from healthy food choices and more physical activity, regardless of their weight status.”
Related: Is Your Job Making Your Kids Fat?
To prevent a tendency towards disordered eating Massey recommends focusing on lifestyle changes rather than the number on the scale.
“Parents can serve as role models by reinforcing positive body image and the importance of keeping one’s body healthy and strong rather than focusing on just one’s body weight.”
However, parents should always be on the lookout for disordered behaviors. If your child starts to display unhealthy attitudes toward their body and/or restrictive eating patterns it is important to consult with a qualified professional that can assist the family and child in addressing the issues.
Changes Can a Family Make Together to Promote Weight Loss
To help your child achieve a healthy body weight, teamwork is essential. Focus on healthy behaviors your family can make together. Parents should try to role model healthy behaviors including making healthy food choices and participating in physical activity.
“I often suggest families find a fun form of exercise that everyone enjoys and set a date weekly to enjoy that activity together,” suggests Massey.
Related: 4 Eating Habits of Healthy Families
To promote healthy eating, stock the refrigerator and cabinets with healthy snack choices that are readily available and reserve high calorie options for special occasions instead of daily lunchbox staples.
Eating together as a family is also a great for both family togetherness and your child’s waistline. Research has indicated that children who eat dinner away from the TV tend to have a healthier body weight, eat slower, and can better recognized their body’s hunger and satiety cues.
One last tip Massey recommends is the “half the plate healthy” rule. “Fill half the plate with either fruits or vegetables to keep calories in check and also provide important vitamins, minerals and fiber to the diet.”
Simple Recipe Substitutes to Shave Calories Off Your Next Family Meal:
Try to replace it with this…
|Sour Cream||Non-fat Greek Yogurt|
|American Cheese||Fat-Free Cheese|
|Butter||In a recipe try to replace ½ of the butter with applesauce, pureed prunes or even canned pumpkin|
|Cream||Try fat free half &half or evaporated skim milk|
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