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Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity

written by: Angela Atkinson • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 3/29/2009

Obesity among children and adolescents is almost an epidemic in the United States. Learn how to prevent and treat the disease.

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    Nearly twenty percent of American children are considered obese, meaning they’re at or above the ninety fifth percentile of average BMI for their age and sex. Twice as many kids are obese today as twenty years ago. As childhood obesity nears epic growth, many parents are concerned with preventing and treating the disease in their children.

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    Prevention

    Preventing obesity is always easier than treating it. Playing a proactive role in your child’s health will significantly reduce his or her risk of becoming overweight or obese.

    You can start as soon as your child is born. Research published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that breastfed children are at lower risk for childhood overweight and obesity. The report also states that the risk is even further decreased for kids who are breastfed for longer durations.

    Some pediatricians also recommend delaying solid foods until your baby is six months to a year old to reduce the risk of obesity and overweight.

    As kids get older, parents should be sure to provide a high quality diet. Foods high in fat, simple sugars and sodium should be limited.

    Offer plenty of opportunities for exercise and activity. Sign your child up for swimming lessons, the soccer team, dance classes or whatever type of physical activity he or she prefers. Take walks together. Go biking or skating. Buy a Wii. Make it fun. Just be sure your kids are physically active for a minimum of thirty minutes to one hour per day outside of school activities.

    Educate your children and help them understand what it takes to be healthy. Better yet, model it for them. Healthy parents are more likely to have healthy children. Remember, children learn what they live.

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    Treatment of Childhood Obesity

    It’s important to understand that for growing kids, obesity treatment usually focuses on stopping or slowing weight gain, not weight loss. This tactic allows the child to “grow into” his or her weight and is less traumatic for the body.

    The Journal of Pediatrics estimates that for each 20 percent increment above normal weight a child carries, he or she will need between 12 and 18 months of weight maintenance. This means that the earlier the weight management and maintenance begins the more success your child is likely to have.

    Treatment at home should begin with a visit to the pediatrician for a check-up. Consult the doctor about your child’s ability to exercise. In most cases, overweight and obese kids should intentionally exercise a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. This may be a goal that a child should achieve on a gradual level, depending on his or her health.

    To get the most effective treatment, exercise should be confined with healthy eating habits—but don’t put your child on a diet. Restrictive diets, fasting and other extreme weight loss measures are very harmful to a growing child’s body. Instead, moderately restrict your child’s fat and caloric intake by eliminating unnecessary fatty foods and snacks, skipping the soda and candy, and offering healthier alternatives.

    Help your child to learn healthier habits. Don’t bring unhealthy foods into the house. If you do bring home a special treat on occasion, only buy enough for one serving per person or give away the extras. Be sure to offer lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats and reduced fat cheeses.

    Fiber is also an important component in weight maintenance. According to nutritionist Sue Gilbert, parents should follow the age plus five rule.

    “That means your child needs the number of grams of fiber each day equal to his or her age plus five,” she says. “Therefore, a two year-old needs about seven grams. By adulthood, a daily amount of 25 to 30 grams is recommended.”