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
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
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
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.