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Health & Parenting

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Helping Children Get Thin

Winning by Losing

WebMD Feature

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 waistlines.

"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 diabetes.

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."

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