If you're trying to help your overweight child lose weight safely, you have to ignore the popular diet books -- and sometimes your own instincts. Although you might be inclined to put your child on a diet, experts generally say that's not the best approach.
Instead, it's best to stick with what's been shown to work in scientific studies, says Dan Kirschenbaum, PhD, an obesity expert and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
To help an overweight child, you can begin with small changes to your family's diet and lifestyle to make it healthier for everyone. The steps below start with small choices based on guidelines developed by experts from the CDC, the Health Resources and Service Administration, and the American Medical Association and reviewed by 15 other professional organizations.
Start by choosing one or two steps and working your way gradually into a healthier lifestyle.
Also, talk to your child's health care provider to obtain goals or guidance on an ideal/target weight.
For younger kids and kids who still have a lot of growing to do, aim to maintain your child's weight rather than lose weight.
This will allow your young overweight child to grow into her weight. Cutting back calories in growing children in order to drop pounds is not a good idea unless advised by your child's health care provider.
Help the whole family embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Be a cheerleader for your family. Keep it fun, enjoyable, and positive. Then find a co-cheerleader -- your mate or your child -- to help you keep up your family's motivation. You can provide valuable positive energy on your own, but the more the merrier.
Eat at the table.
Although it's tempting to eat in front of the TV or have family members eat on their own schedule, try to carve out time to eat together at the table at least five or six times per week. A study showed that kids who ate most of their meals with their family were less likely to be overweight.
Focus on vegetables and fruits.
Track how many servings of veggies and fruits your overweight child eats. Your ultimate goal should be your child eating five or more servings a day. An easy way to encourage your child to eat vegetables and fruits is to make them more visible. Put apples and oranges in a bowl on the table. Or put washed, cut, bite-sized veggies with a healthy dip on a plate covered with clear plastic wrap in the fridge.
Eliminate sugared beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit punch.
To help your family make this transition, have each family member start every meal with a glass of water. It may take time to get out of the habit of having sugary drinks every day. If they normally drink four sugary drinks a day, try switching to three a day for a week. Then cut back to two drinks a day the next week, and so on.