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Expert Q&A: Helping Your Child With Weight Loss

An interview with David S. Ludwig, MD.

What are some things I can do to help my kid lose weight?

At our clinic, we try to address this on multiple levels. It's important to realize that obesity isn't caused by one thing. It's the result of a combination of factors: the foods we eat, our physical activity level, emotional issues, stress levels, family dynamics, finances, and societal influences.

Of course, physical activity and diet are crucial. Contrary to what a lot of popular diets suggest, we don't recommend cutting out specific macronutrients -- like fat or carbs. Those approaches are counterproductive, because they're too hard to follow in the long term. Instead, we concentrate on the quality of the foods. We also use what's called the low-glycemic eating plan, which helps stabilize the surge in blood sugar that occurs after a meal. It helps people feel fuller and makes them less likely to overeat.

You may need to change some of your own behaviors. You need to model healthy eating and physical activity. You may also have to adjust how you deal with your kids. Nagging, criticism, and excessive restrictions on food don't work. We see many families that put so much energy into fighting over body weight and nutrition that there's actually very little energy left over to make any healthy changes.

How can I encourage my child to exercise?

It depends on the age. Obviously, young kids aren't designed to spend 20 minutes on a treadmill, either psychologically or physically. You have to make physical activity fun for them.

Sometimes it's simple. Just putting a young child outdoors with some toys or other children encourages them to be active. With older kids, you might need a little more structure. They could take part in competitive or noncompetitive sports.

You should also involve the whole family. Take fun outings to a park, or the beach, or the mountains. Start going on a family walk after dinner instead of collapsing in front of the television. Walking is a good way of burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.

How can I get my kid to stop eating junk food?

As a parent, you have control over what foods are in the kitchen. So if a food doesn't support health, don't bring it into the house. By doing that, you'll improve the quality of nutrition for the whole family. But it's got to apply across the board. The dad can't have his personal stash of ice cream bars in the freezer and expect the kids to leave them alone.

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