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Childhood Obesity Treatment Plan

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Children need extra nutrients and calories to help them grow and develop.  However, the extra calories it takes to feed children all the nutrients they need has to be balanced with activity to burn excess calories and fat.  Calories not burned efficiently increase the risk for childhood obesity. Small changes can make a difference in your child’s health. 

Since parents are normally the ones who buy food, cook food and decide where food is eaten, the burden rest upon parents to provide healthy choices. Success of weight maintenance or weight loss largely depends upon the parent’s commitment to helping the child make appropriate changes. The method for maintaining weight or losing weight is about the same for children as adults with the exception that children do need more nutrients in their daily diet.  Consequently, the goal should be to feed your child a healthy diet and find ways to increase activity. 

If weight loss is needed, it should be slow at the rate of 1 pound a week to 1 pound a month, depending on the child’s situation.  Healthy eating and exercise habits should be thought of as a pair, one cannot go without the other, for your child’s best of health. Review the following tips for methods of maintaining weight or losing weight:

  • Choose fruits and vegetables over convenience foods high in sugar and fat.
  • Keep healthy snacks available rather than cookies, candy and cake. 
  • Never use food as a reward or punishment.  Food is used as rewards for training of dogs, but not children.
  • Limit sweet beverages including beverages that contain fruit juice.  These drinks provide little nutritional value, usually are high in calories and can make the child feel too full to eat healthier foods.
  • Select recipes and methods of cooking lower in fat.  An example would be to bake chicken rather than frying it.
  • Place colorful food on the table such as green and yellow vegetables, fruits of various colors and brown whole grain bread.  Limit white carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, bleached bread and desserts with sugar.
  • Make mealtime a family event, a time to share news and tell stories.
  • Do not allow eating in front of the television or computer that creates mindless munching.
  • Do not run after toddlers and children forcing food into their mouths.
  • Limit eating out especially at fast-food restaurants.

Discourage eating meals in front of a T.V. or computer screen and video games.  This can lead to eating fast and a lowered awareness of how much the child is eating.  A huge box of cookies or bag of Doritos can be consumed in no time at all. The other important component to maintaining or losing weight in childhood is physical activity.  Activity also builds strong bones and muscles, which helps children to sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. 

These good habits established in childhood help adolescents maintain healthy weight even during hormonal changes.  Healthy eating habits and an active life during childhood and adolescence carries over into adulthood.  Fostering these good habits in your children leads to a longer and happier life for them. Review the following tips to increase your child’s activity level:

  • Limit sedentary activities such as T.V., playing video and computer games or talking on the phone.
  • Emphasize activity not “exercise.”  Just as with adults routine exercise can be boring.
  • Encourage sports such as basketball, baseball, tennis, football, and swimming.  The object is to get and keep your child moving.  Jump-rope, playing tag or hide-and-seek is great games for children to play and be active.

As a child I could not stop moving and now at age fifty I am so thankful for those years I remained active.  If I was not riding a bike from daybreak to night, I was playing a game of softball with all the neighbor kids, or bad-mitten (I loved to play bad-mitten).  I jumped rope and loved all the childhood riddles and tunes that we could say and sing as we jumped rope. 

I must say I had a very active and happy childhood right in my own small backyard.  My parents did not have to encourage me to keep active, in fact, they would ask me:  “don’t you ever tire of always doing something.”  I was quite competitive as well.  In all I played, I played to win.  I was never a sore loser.  If I lost in something, I just made a secret determination to win the next time!

If your child likes nature, go on hikes to collect leaves and rocks (I did that too).  Fall was especially wonderful in that I love to chase after the blowing leaves to see how many I could catch and hold in my arms, and oh what fun it was to fall in the middle of a huge pile of fall leaves. 

If you want an active child, be active yourself.  My only daughter was even more active than I was.  She now has two sons that she actively involves in everything going.  It does run in families!  Children learn from their caretakers and parents.  Be aware of the example you set before your children with healthy eating habits and fun activities to keep them active. 

Make chores a family approach:  Who can rake and bag the most leaves in an hour’s time?  The winner gets an extra $5 in their allowance this week.
Vary the activities
Let the child take part in choosing the activity of the day or of the week.  Will it be bowling or swimming this week as the activity for the week.  The goal is to keep moving and keep your child moving in fun and creative ways.

Always remember children cannot change their exercise and eating habits by themselves.  They need support and encouragement of family and other caregivers, as well as, good examples. Review the following tips:

  • Commit to healthy habits and activity as a family with all members sticking to the plan.  If you just make the child eat healthy and be active, he or she may feel singled out and resent it.
  • Make small, gradual changes you can easily incorporate into your daily lives.
  • Concentrate on long-term diet and activity changes.
  • Do not advocate quick or fad diets to lose weight rapidly.  The goal is always to eat healthier and be active throughout a lifetime.
  • Set goals you can easily achieve.  An example of a goal for your child might be that he or she reduces the number of sugar-sweetened beverages he or she drinks.  A family goal might be to always eat meals at the table rather than sitting in front of the T.V. 

Mealtime can be a great time to share the events of everyone’s day.  Many times problems can be uncovered at the dinner table that can be addressed later in greater detail.  The family dinner table can be a wonderful place of bonding for each family member.  How can family members bond with each other while all focusing upon a T.V. sitcom? Surgery and/or medication are not often used for childhood obesity.  Because of the risks involved and possible long-term complications, weight-loss surgery is rarely even considered for obese adolescents. 

However, in extreme and rare cases, if your child’s severe weight poses a greater health threat than the potential risks of surgery; your doctor may consider weight-loss surgery as an option.

By Connie Limon
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