Parenting Matters: Are you concerned about your child’s weight?

A few years ago, obesity was limited to adults, mostly over age 40. But this has changed. Childhood obesity today is a cause of concern in all parts of the world. In the United States one of three children is overweight or obese.

Most of us think our children are just right. But one way you can check it out is through body mass index (BMI) which uses height and weight measurements to estimate a person’s body fat. Since this can be complicated, use a BMI calculator or go to your computer and check it out.

If you aren’t sure if your child really has a problem, ask your doctor. Let him tell you what you can do to help. But don’t just ignore the potential that your child has a problem. There are too many bad consequences.

Obesity increases the risk for serious health conditions: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. All were once considered adult diseases. Another issue is that children who are obese are also prone to low self-esteem. These children are more likely to be teased, bullied, or rejected by peers.

Causes of being overweight

A number of factors contribute to becoming overweight but in most cases it is a problem that can be solved if parents really try to find solutions. Much of what we eat is quick and easy — from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. Portion sizes both at home and in restaurants, have grown significantly. Now more than ever, kids spend more time playing with computers and handheld video game systems.

They need to be actively playing outside. Computer games and television are major culprits. Children younger than 6 spend an average of two hours a day in front of a screen, mostly watching TV, DVDs or videos. Older kids and teens average 4.5 hours a day watching TV, DVDs, or videos.

When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen may increase to over 7 hours a day! Kids who watch more than four hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch two hours or less.

In other words, for many kids, once they get home from school, virtually all of their free time is spent in front of one screen or another. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids over 2 years not spend more than one to two hours a day in front of a screen. The AAP also discourages any screen time for children younger than 2 years old.

Many children don’t get enough physical activity. Although physical education in schools can help kids get up and moving, many schools are eliminating PE programs or cutting down the time spent on fitness-building activities.

Guidelines recommend that children over 2 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on all days of the week. Babies and toddlers should be active for 15 minutes every hour (a total of three hours for every 12 waking hours) each day.

Studies have shown that a child’s risk of obesity greatly increases if one or more parent is overweight. If that one parent is the one who purchases the food, then the choices given the child may also encourages eating poorly.

Preventing overweight, obesity

The key to keeping children of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. It’s the “practice what you preach” mentality. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair. Take your child along with you when you go grocery shopping so he can learn how to make good food choices. Avoid falling into these common food/eating behavior traps:

• Don’t reward kids for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Come up with other solutions to modify their behavior.

• Don’t maintain a clean-plate policy. Be aware of child’s hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they’re full. If your child is satisfied, don’t force him to continue eating.

• Don’t talk about “bad foods” or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks. Your child may rebel and overeat these forbidden foods outside of home or sneak them in on their own.

Recommendations by age

Some recommendations for kids of all ages:

• Ages 1-5: Start good habits early. Help shape food preferences by offering a variety of healthy foods and watching what you have in the kitchen. Encourage child’s natural tendency to be active and help them build on developing physical skills.

• Ages 6-12: Encourage your child to be physically active every day, whether through an organized sports team or a pick-up game of soccer during recess. Keep them active at home too, through everyday activities like walking and playing in the yard. Let them be more involved in making good food choices, such as packing lunch.

• Ages 13-18: Teens like fast food, but try to steer them toward healthier choices like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, and smaller sizes. Teach them how to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home. Encourage teens to be active every day.

• All ages: Cut down on eating while watching a screen. Serve a variety of healthy foods and eat meals together as often as possible. Encourage kids to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, limit sugar-sweetened beverages, and eat breakfast every day.

You are important. If you incorporate healthy habits into your family’s daily life, you’re modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids that will last. Talk to them about the importance of eating well and being active, but make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone.


Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.


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