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Parents Hold the Key to Children's Fitness Success

WebMD Health News

July 20, 2000 -- Stories on childhood obesity these days are almost as plentiful as the peas left on many a child's dinner plate. But in the spirit of the topic, here's a command: you're not getting up until you've read every last word in this story! At least if you're a parent with concerns about your child's weight.

Childhood obesity has risen dramatically since the 1960s, according to government statistics, with as many as 30% of children meeting the definition of obese. Recent studies even show that parents underestimate their child's own weight problems, especially low-income parents.

That adds to the problem, but the usual suspects rarely change: foods are too high in fat, lives are too lacking in exercise, partly because of the constant lure of television and video games. Most are guilty as charged, but ...

"We don't know what is responsible for the epidemic," says Jennifer Buechner, RD, CSP. "We do know all these factors are contributors. Certainly kids do not move as much as kids used to. Eating is much different these days, frequently a very hectic affair." Buechner is involved in a program for obese kids called FitKids at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Experts agree it's a given kids are too fat because of high-fat foods, and they don't exercise enough. But Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, points out that children are normally active, and children normally don't overeat "out of thin air." Instead, they normally eat as much as they're hungry for. "So what's going on with today's children that is interfering with their natural ability to regulate their energy balance and grow in a way that is right for them?" Satter asks. "That's the real question." Satter is the author of three books, including Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense.

It's a question that has a different answer for every overweight child, and every family of an overweight child. But you should know, if you're thinking of changing your child's diet in order to reduce his or her weight, you should first consult your pediatrician, who can also tell you what your child's ideal weight should be. If the weight problem isn't medical and your child is 20 pounds or less over his ideal weight, you may be able to manage his weight problems with some behavioral and nutritional changes.

In talking with experts, some common themes for helping children with unhealthy eating habits that could lead to weight problems rise to the top.

Here's what a few nutritionists recommend:

  • Eat meals together as a family so you can control how much and what your kids eat, and don't allow kids to eat food between meals or snack times.
  • Focus on fitness as a family to make it more of a habit and to make it more enjoyable.
  • Shop wisely; if you don't want your child to eat it, don't bring it in the house.
  • Teach children to eat slowly, savor the food, and listen to the body's hunger and fullness cues.
  • Plan regular meals. If children get too hungry, they may overeat.
  • Don't force a child to clean his plate.

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