Nutrition recommendations for overweight and obese children
The number of obese children in America is on the rise. Here’s how dietitians can help both parents and children achieve a healthy weight through certain lifestyle and nutrition recommendations.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States–according to the Centers for Disease Control, over 14.7 million children and adolescents are affected by obesity.
Unfortunately, childhood obesity can profoundly affect children's physical health, social, and emotional well-being, and self-esteem. Another risk of obesity is poor academic performance, as well as low quality of life, and an increase in metabolic, cardiovascular, orthopedic, neurological, and pulmonary disorders.
Moreover, research has found that overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood. They are also more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age compared to children who are at a healthy weight.
As a dietitian, you can help obese children achieve a healthier weight by making certain lifestyle and nutrition recommendations. But before going into these recommendations, let’s first understand what childhood obesity is, and the health implications associated with it.
What is childhood obesity?
A child affected by obesity is defined as having a body mass index-for-age (or BMI-for-age) percentile greater than 95%. In turn, an overweight child has a BMI-for-age percentile between 85-95%.
There are numerous factors that can contribute to a child being overweight or obese. Some of these include:
- Family history. Family dynamics play a role in whether or not children are overweight. Studies show that children with two obese parents are 10 to 12 times more likely to be obese.
- Socioeconomic factors. Education and obesity seem to be directly correlated. It’s been found that the prevalence of obesity increases as the head of the household’s level of education decreases.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Increased sedentary behaviors (like TV, computer use, and video games) have been correlated to an increase in childhood obesity.
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Risk factors for overweight and obese children
Children being overweight increases their risk of experiencing health issues. Here are some of the most common health problems associated with obesity.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Musculoskeletal complications
- Psychological issues
- Sleep apnea
- Joint pain
However, studies have found that losing weight can have a positive impact on these conditions, and may even eliminate them altogether.
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The parent’s role in weight loss
Studies have shown that parents have a substantial influence on children’s diet and physical activity behaviors. Whether it’s food purchasing, meal choices, nutrition knowledge, or behaviors around food, physical activity, and health, the choices that the parents make directly affect their child, especially when it comes to weight.
This is further backed by science, as research has found that parental involvement was positively associated with weight management and weight loss for children.
As a dietitian, you can work with the parents to help educate them on better food choices for obese children, as well as the importance of physical activity, positive reinforcement, and body image.
How to support overweight and obese children
Childhood obesity is a complex and sensitive topic, so it should be handled with care. Here are some ways to support both parent and child to help achieve a healthier weight.
- Incorporate healthful eating habits. Sugary beverages, fast food, and processed foods can all contribute to excess weight and weight gain. Encourage the parents to purchase more healthy food like fresh or frozen produce, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, and limit processed foods when possible. Learn more about how you can help obese children and their parents limit added sugar in their diet.
- Limit screen time. Studies continue to show that increased screen time is correlated to a higher instance of childhood obesity. To combat this, try limiting screen time to 30 minutes to two hours each day.
- Make it fun. You don’t want children to associate weight loss with negative thoughts, so try to make it fun and engaging for them. Playing with food, engaging in fun exercise activities, and making up games at the grocery store can all be ways to put a fun spin on a healthier lifestyle.
- Find what works for them. Each family is different, so what works for one person may not work for someone else. It’s important to evaluate each family as a whole, and come up with a nutrition plan that supports their lifestyle, budget, and socioeconomic status. Ultimately, the goal is to support weight loss and help them make more informed choices for health, so your plan should be maintainable for each family.
With the number of obese children in America on the rise, it’s important for dietitians to work with both the parent and child to address this issue.
Childhood obesity has a profound impact on the child’s physical health, social, and emotional well-being, and self-esteem, and can continue to cause issues later in life if it’s not addressed. By working with parents, you can make curated lifestyle and nutrition recommendations that will fit each family’s lifestyle, budget, and socioeconomic status, while supporting weight loss for their obese children.
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