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An interview with David S. Ludwig, MD.

Concerned that your child might be overweight or obese? As a parent, it can be hard to know what to do. Can you just hope your child will grow out of it? Can you encourage healthy habits without nagging? Is there some way to get your child to try a bite of vegetables without turning dinner into a pitched battle every night?

WebMD got some answers from David S. Ludwig, MD. He's a pediatrician at Children's Hospital, Boston and founding director of its Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program, a clinic for overweight kids. Ludwig is also the author of Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World.

How do I know if my child's weight is unhealthy?

Well, you can look for signs of being overweight. Is your kid having trouble keeping up with other kids in sports? Is he outgrowing standard clothing sizes? But the best way is to look at the growth charts, which your pediatrician should be doing regularly. You can find out how your child's BMI (body mass index) compares with those of other kids.

If your child is overweight or obese, you need to take action. Some parents of obese kids want to write off the issue. They say, "Oh, he'll grow out of it." But all we have to do is look around us. It's very obvious that many, many children are not growing out of it.

What are the potential health effects of being overweight or obese as a child?

We know that obesity in childhood increases the risk of becoming an obese adult and developing all the complications that can go with adult obesity -- diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions.

But the risks of childhood obesity aren't all in the future. It causes immediate problems, too. Excessive weight affects virtually all of the organ systems in a child's body. It can exacerbate asthma and trigger sleep apnea. It causes a range of heart disease risk factors and problems with the GI tract, liver, bones, muscles, and joints. We've seen high blood pressure in kids as young as 5 years old.

Having excess weight in childhood is serious, because it's a pivotal moment in development. The organs are still forming. Excess weight can affect how a child grows and develops, and that can have long-term repercussions. Unless you do something now, these changes will be very hard to deal with later.

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