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How Can My Child Lose Weight?

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Rates of childhood obesity are rapidly on the rise in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of childhood obesity between the years 2017-2018 was 19.3% and affected about 14.4 million children and adolescents aged 2-19 years.

Obesity in children can have lasting effects on their health. If you feel like your child is overweight or may suffer from obesity, and you think they need to lose weight, our experts are here to help get your child’s health back on track.

Common causes of weight gain

There is no quick and easy way to help your child lose weight, but the first step in a weight loss plan is understanding why your child may be gaining weight. Knowing some of their common setbacks will help in making them more successful. Here are some common pitfalls:

  • Drinking a lot of juice/sweet drinks (soda, sweet tea, sports drinks). Too much sugar also causes diarrhea, diaper rash and cavities. Kids need to be drinking mostly water. Keep the sweet drinks to no more than about once a week as a “treat.”
  • Drinking more than 2 cups (16 ounces) of milk per day. Milk has a lot of calories and sugar. Consuming too much of this causes constipation, cavities and iron deficiency anemia. Most 12- to 24-month-old kids need whole milk. After that, most kids 2 years or older should switch to skim milk, 1% milk or 2% milk based on their doctor’s recommendation.
  • Skipping breakfast. This can lead to unhealthy weight gain, headaches and poor school performance.
  • Too much screen time and time inside. Kids should get outside or find ways to stay active as much as possible. Limiting screen time and encouraging play helps release energy, build stamina, enforce healthy habits and encourages development.
  • Inadequate sleep. Sleep deprived kids tend to overeat and sleep deprivation can cause hormone imbalances that lead to increased fat storing and weight gain. To promote optimal health:
    • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours (including naps) in a 24-hour period
    • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours in a 24-hour period
    • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours in a 24-hour period
  • Portion sizes are too large. In general, portions should be “child-sized” until they reach adolescence. Talk with their pediatrician to have a better understanding of what they should be eating based on your child's stage of growth and development, age, appetite and activity.

Starting healthy habits early is essential. It is not a good strategy to let kids eat whatever they want and then expect them to turn it all around when they get older. If we can prevent obesity, we can avoid deadly consequences like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, to name a few.

It's important that you work with your child's pediatrician to determine a proper weight loss goal. Children grow at different rates, and it is not always easy to figure out whether a child is overweight or at a healthy weight on your own.

If you think your child needs to lose weight here are some tips for a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Children should aim to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn't need to be all at once. Younger children can participate in active play, like chasing games, playing on a swing set or ball games. Encourage older children to ride a bike, walk to school if it’s within a reasonable distance or play sports.
  2. Have three set meals per day with one healthy afternoon snack for school-age kids. Toddlers and preschoolers may need a morning and afternoon snack. Avoid all-day “grazing.”
  3. Make sure they are eating child-sized portions. Avoid serving food on a large adult plate. If children want seconds after dinner, make sure they have eaten some of the healthier items on his/her plate first. Also, it takes 20 min for the brain to get the message from the stomach that the stomach is full, so it is recommended to wait at least 20 minutes until seconds are served.
  4. Try to eat at home at least four to five nights per week. There are many extra calories in restaurant food compared to the same meal prepared at home.
  5. Your child’s plate should be colorful! Less healthy foods tend to be white—pasta, potatoes, rice, bread—and should be limited.
  6. Dipping sauces like ketchup have a lot of sugar and salt. Limit it to no more than a tablespoon or so and not with every meal.
  7. You are the gatekeeper when it comes to the kinds of foods accessible to your child. It may be unrealistic to keep junk food in the house and expect your child not to eat it. Try to shop along the edges of the store: produce, meat/seafood and refrigerated sections. Avoid buying too much from the center aisles, which is where the processed food is.
  8. Avoid kids’ menus when you can. “Kid food,” such as chicken fingers or grilled cheese, tends to be fried and fatty. Select a few healthy options from the menu and let your child choose.
  9. Be a good role model. Children learn from example. You should encourage your child to be active and well by doing so yourself too. Any changes you make to your child’s habits are much more likely to be accepted if the whole family is following along.

Following a healthy lifestyle starts young. Engrain healthy lifestyle choices in your child while they are young to ensure they live a well-balanced life.

This information should not replace specific recommendations from your child’s doctor. If you are worried about your child’s weight or nutritional status, talk to your pediatrician. He or she may want to order screening labs and/or refer you to a nutritionist, endocrinologist or a specific program to help.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Avery Sampson.

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