Helping Children Get Thin
Winning by Losing
Not only are 61% of adults overweight or obese, but plenty of
children have joined the battle of the bulge as well. About 25% of children are
part of the "rounding of America," and many have become just as hungry
as their adult counterparts for deliverance from their ever-widening
"This is an epidemic and a crisis," says Sheah Rarback,
MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and a
registered dietitian at the University of Miami School of Medicine's pediatrics
department. Overweight kids have a higher risk of developing a number of
unsettling health problems, from high cholesterol levels to type 2
As the numbers on the scale soar, so do the reasons that
children are plumper than ever: Fewer meals eaten at home and more at
drive-thru restaurants where high-fat, grab-'n'-go foods dominate the menu ...
schools eliminating recesses and physical education classes ... and too many
indoor distractions that turn kids into couch potatoes rather than encouraging
them to break a sweat outdoors.
"I call it the S.O.B. syndrome -- the 'sitting on your
butt' syndrome -- in which kids are watching more TV and playing more computer
games rather than becoming physically active," says pediatrician Alvin N.
Eden, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical Center in
New York City.
Is Dieting Risky?
Most parents know that potbellies are bad for their child's
health and self-esteem. But some are also convinced that restricting calories
may be just as hazardous to their youngster's well-being. Yet while it's true
that under 2 years old, your baby needs fat for proper body and brain
development, a sensible lower-fat diet for older children may be just what the
doctor ordered, particularly if obesity runs in the family.
"Some fat in the diet is important in children for their
proper growth and development," says Denise Bruner, MD, president of the
American Society of Bariatric Physicians, whose members specialize in treating
obesity. "I generally say that a diet with 30% of its total calories from
fat is acceptable in children."
According to Eden, "Starting at age 2, every child, whether
fat or thin, should be eating a prudent diet lower in saturated fat,
cholesterol, and refined sugar. In my practice, for instance, I recommend that
every child over age 2 start drinking skim or 1% fat milk. They should consume
more complex carbohydrates, too, such as salads and pasta."
With the best of intentions, some parents have put their child
on the same fad diets that they've become hooked on, often oblivious to any
potential health risks. The Atkins diet, for example, promotes unlimited
amounts of protein and fat, and severe restrictions on carbohydrate-rich foods,
which some experts believe could be a prescription for nutritional misfortune