Fitness Articles

Expert Solutions: Overweight Kids

SparkPeople Experts and Coaches Weigh-In on Issues with Overweight Children

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Of course we know that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in this country- and now it's been spilling over to our kids. Obesity among children is skyrocketing, and getting a lot of attention these days, but I think people are still not sure of a couple of things: How can parents prevent their own children from becoming overweight, and what do you do when a child (or adolescent) is obese?

Jen (SparkPeople Community Leader)
I think the first place it starts is with parents. When I worked at the YMCA we had a program for severely obese kids, and 9 times out of 10 the entire family was obese too. So I think there is something wrong with that family’s lifestyle that needs to be addressed. A 10-year-old can’t go grocery shopping for himself. But if he is given healthy options at home and the parents provide a good example, he’s much more likely to continue that behavior—partly because it’s familiar. If french fries are familiar at home, then he’s more likely to eat that as he gets older and can make his own choices.

Same goes with exercise- if they are given a good example and not allowed to sit in front of the TV all day, they are more likely to continue that behavior.

I think parents can create a healthy environment without focusing on counting calories and losing weight. It's just about being healthy and getting active. I get nervous when I hear people asking for calorie recommendations for their kids. They'll get enough of that pressure from media and society—no need to create more of it at home.

Christie Hadley (Certified Personal Trainer)
I agree with Jen. The parent's habits really impact how the kids act. Also, where children play has changed. When I was young and it was nice outside, I wasn't "allowed" to be inside. We made up games and ran around the back yard. If we came in for too long we were sent directly outside. I actually overheard a mom say the other day that now, she’d rather have her children play inside. That is a big shift in attitude.

In my personal opinion, I feel that the focus shouldn't be on the "good" foods and "bad" foods, and children should never be put on a "diet." The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle—an eat to win attitude so a child can be the best soccer player, ballerina, or math wizard she can be.

Nicole (SparkPeople Fitness Expert)
Children do adopt the habits of their parents. So, it's only natural that when two-thirds of the adult population is overweigh or obese, kids are copying those same habits and following the same trend. I don't think video games, too much TV or junk food is to blame—but when a child's example is a parent who is sedentary and a poor eater, then he'll likely mirror that behavior and end up in the same state of health as the parent.

When I was a kid, my parents always sent us a consistent message about eating healthy. We hardly ever had junk food in the house, and our parents were active. My mom went to the Y for aerobics classes, and my Dad who loves sports, was always playing baseball, basketball, and tennis with my brother and me. As very young kids, they placed a lot of emphasis on foods that will make us "big and strong", and kids want that--they want to grow and be like adults, so it worked a lot of the time!

For children who are already overweight, I think that a weight maintenance program is the best. When they are growing, parents should not restrict their calories or put them on fad diets. If parents can stop their kids from gaining more weight, they'll be in a better position to lose it once puberty finally ends.

But, even if only one person (parent or child) is overweight in a family, the entire family should be eating and exercising the same. Don't single out a child or parent, making her eat salad when everyone else gets pizza. They should all be striving to be their best selves, and supporting the other members of the family who may have further to go.

Becky (SparkPeople Dietitian)
"TV Turn-Off Week" fits perfectly into this topic. Just to let you know, when we moved into our new house four years ago, we had no TV. After 2 weeks NO ONE complained about missing the TV, but the kids did miss the bus one morning because they were playing cards while eating their breakfast...it was GREAT!!!

Then spring came (7 months later), and my husband wanted to be able to watch the REDS on TV... and the rest is history. When my kids start picking on each other, etc., I know I need to limit TV time to only 30 minutes daily. Then we all get our buns outside—cold, snow, rain, or shine—to play for a while and we all get along better.may solve a lot of the worlds problems...maybe we would all play together better.

Joe (SparkPeople Fitness Coach)
I think the most important thing is to look at the root of the problem, which in my opinion is that kids, like adults, are suffering from emotional eating. There are a lot of factors involved—family environments that lack healthy communication and support, an abundance of challenges they face, and opportunities like never before—it results in self-induced pressure, causing them to feel overwhelmed.

When these types of things occur, I believe kids look for something to "soothe" these feelings... food is just one thing they turn to. So before even dealing with the food issue itself, something needs to be done to create healthy communication and support. Once this is set up, it's a lot easier to get the message across that healthy nutrition and exercise is going to benefit them, and then it becomes a process where they learn and unlearn a little bit at a time—with the most powerful influence being the parents taking part in the process as well.

Healthy nutrition and exercise doesn't have to be brought up in terms of physical appearance... this is one of the problems adults face now. A healthy lifestyle is attached too much to appearance instead of vitality. There are numerous other ways to get kids attention on this topic, such as the high rate of cancer in society, high levels of stress, etc.

Obviously, there are a lot of mixed messages out there also, so proper education is at the heart of helping kids, and that is why parents involvement is so crucial.


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Member Comments

  • My kid has been on spring break and already has lost some weight because we are being more active and I'm providing what he eats. As much as I tell him to make healthy choices at school it's not always possible. Will keep trying.
  • I understand about kids mirroring parents eating and such. But before kindergarten this year for my youngest she loved fruits veggies and quinoa and all things healthy. Now with all the other kids saying how they hate fruits and veggies she is refusing them repeatedly at home. I pack her lunch the majority of the time and let her pick what she wants for fruits and veggies and that helps she does eat them then during lunch. It also doesn't help that this year the kindergarten teacher does not say the kids need to bring a healthy snack, instead they bring whatever the parents who don't know better send...oreos, cookies, Fruit roll ups, all junk almost every day. When I asked about it I was told parents are in a hurry and grab junk. Really? How hard is it to grab bananas instead of cookies? I was also told if I didn't want my child having the junk snack she could bring one. And of course then she will be singled out for eating healthy and not eating all the junky cookies! Then the chocolate milk a lunch too that almost all the kindergarteners take. Not every school has a fancy healthy lunch program, that would great though! The school even gives junk to the kids so it's all a big mess. So if a child is eating breakfast, snack and lunch at school they have it pretty bad even before they get home. If a child picks the cereal line at school it totals 12 teaspoons of sugar with the muffin, cereal and chocolate milk they take. No joke and then snack, 3 teaspoons sugar in the Oreos. Rant over...
  • Good points in this article. I would like to add that the built environments for children have changed since I was a child several decades ago. There are less places outside to play, and many cannot afford a home with a good yard for their children to play in.

    That being said, other ways can be found. I used to walk my children to the local farmers' markets to pick up fresh produce a few times a week, having them pick out something new we had never eaten and carrying our halls back home. We also used to walk to the beach and search for tiny crabs, shells and other treasures. We also walked around a lake in the middle of our city, stopping at the playground for fun activities with other children.

    Today, I do some of these activities with my grandson of four. He also enjoys going to a kids gym for children of ALL ability levels to go rock climbing, tumbling, trampoline time, nerf ball games and other interactive play with other children.

    I do keep some treats in my house, but healthy foods are displayed in abundance. My grandson does not get the treats until all healthy foods are eaten first and treats are not given every time he comes over...they are given out occasionally. He has always been told foods like cashews and raisins are his "treats".
  • Great article. At 55 pounds and nine years old, my child is very thin, but she could use some of these suggestions. She does do martial arts and plays outside a lot, but she is a potato-chip-a-hol
    ic and needs balanced meals. She also can sit an entire day watching videos.

    Growing up, I did not eat much. I was very thin, so my parents would sit with me for hours forcing me to eat. They would give me injections to stimulate my diet, but it didn't work. If I didn't eat, my neighbor would lock me in a closet and my dad once lost his cool and threw a bowel of spaghetti at me. My grandmother would cry because my ribs were showing. A well meaning neighbor gave my parents food donations, thinking they couldn't afford to feed me. Simply, I just didn't want to eat and nobody wanted thin kids. My sister was obese, but that was considered cute in kids.

    I decided I want going to put my daughter through such trauma, but I still wanted her to eat. I gave her chips and candy, just to get something in her. Luckily she doesn't like candy anymore, but there are a couple other things like hot dogs and bacon that she will eat in excess. She is still thin but weaning her off the junk food is not easy. She really doesn't eat much of anything, so healthy meals are hard.

    I am not saying that I am having it any harder than the parent or an overweight child, I'm not This article serves as a reminder to me, however, that thin is not necessarily healthy and I have to do a better job.
  • When I was a kid, we were required by our parents to either be in a sport or to take dance lessons. There were six of us kids in the house. What I have noticed is that while we all had had a genetic predisposition towards being overweight, those of us who stuck with the dancing or sports have grown into adults who are not obese. Those of us who dropped the activities are now really heavy.

    Causation doesn't equal correlation...so I don't know if that early activity somehow changed us physically so that we've had an easier time with weight issues earlier in life, or if our ability to stick with it indicated that we had the sort of personality that allowed us to be self-disciplined.
  • I can't vote in your poll because you're lacking an option.
    Who makes kids fat? Kids.
    As a fat kid, I knew when I was overeating, and I did it anyway. I was responsible for my weight, which shot up after a tonsillectomy when I was five.
    Not my mom, not the doctor, most certainly not the schools.
    I went on a diet and stuck to it and got skinny as an adolescent because I wanted to, and not because some meddling adult made me, and by doing so I learned that, with self-discipline and perseverance, I could change my situation.
  • QUANSC2
    Great article. I have a child that is obese. As the parent, I take full responsibility for it. As the parent I allowed too many hours of tv and video games. There has been too much fast food and too many excuses. As soon as I accepted that the issue was with me and his dad, we got on the right track. We can see the differences in the entire family already.
  • Great article!!! After reading it I have decided that starting tomorrow(it is after 10pm) we will be doing a 15 minute family dance-a-thon!!!! I have already started making nutritious meals, and controlling portions, now I will add this.
    Cheers!!!
  • There should not be a picture of an overweight baby for this article. In no way does overweight infants correlate to childhood obesity.
  • Is Becky serious? If Obama and Kim Jong-un just played a game of roundball, everything would ok between East and West?

    The reason I was ovweweight as a kid is that my folks were too busy taking care of the household or its finanances to watch me play outdoors and they did not trust the neighbors to do it. Maybe ther was too much tv, soda, and convenience foods too. They did not know better. They grew up in agricultural communities and had no free time or extra food as they were growing up. They did not want their kids to have it as tough as them. They did not know it would make us lazy and fat.

    My generation can facilitate better food choices for our children, but where in the country can kids play all day unsupervised?
  • KLUTZY68
    I liked the article too. I just started reading "The Hunger Fix" by Pam Peeke, MD. There is some recent research about how eating certain foods destroys parts of genes and results in uncontrolled hunger and food addiction. This genetic change can be passed on to the children, or caused by their own diet. I'm only on page 14 but I now know why I gained up to the SMO level and could NOT stop eating. The book seems to fill in some of the missing pieces of the obesity puzzle. Very interesting!
  • I think it's incredibly irresponsible and misleading to have a picture of an infant under this headline. Babies and diets never, ever, ever mix, and even though your article is about older children, it can still trigger an inexperienced parent into thinking their healthy, chubby baby is eating too much. That's not the kind of mixed messaging I'd expect from a health-focused website.
  • I was an obese child before this "obese epidemic". My father was in the military, fit, and my mom was constantly on diets. I know that the high sodium (and especially after my parents divorced) highly processed foods did not help me get or stay healthy, despite walking often, I was also pretty sedentary. I was forced into mandatory, humiliating phys education; and made to "play outside"/not allowed inside by people who watched me after school. Playing outside isn't what keeps kids thin.

    I still believe that it was not just the food and exercise that was wrong - it was simply the wrong mix for MY body. My pre-8 year old body adapted fine with the level of growth and exercise. Then I hit puberty early, and that body didn't do as well with that environment, and neither did my emotional state and upheaval.

    I'm disappointed that there are limited choices in the related "who's to blame" poll - I think that we are all missing the point. Coach Nicole got the closest in reminding us that many ADULTs are obese, and that population is growing, so naturally, so follows the results in rise of childhood obesity.

    With less nutritious food, it's easy and fast for me to eat 3 or 4 times the calories and fat in ONE day that I need to maintain my weight. But it's hard for me to eat the same volume of foods that are more nutritious. Physically less possible, and, I think that because it is more nutritious, my body doesn't cry out for more and more food.

    Just some thoughts..
    Jocelyn
  • I teach at a large, inner-city middle school and hardly any of our students are overweight. I am not sure if its genetics, life-style, or what. I do know that we have a large sports program, and mandatory PE. As a teacher, and a person who struggles with weight, I know this is a complex problem, with no easy solutions.
  • Kids don't get recess and gym class as much anymore. Portion sizes have gotten bigger. Too much of stuff will make kids overweight (even if it is healthy things like grain bread, whole wheat pasta, cheese, nuts) It is convienent to go through the drive through and get $1 menu items like burgers and fries. WIth so many adults overweight, it is becming the norm for kids to be overweight too.

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