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Healthy Ways to Promote a Child's Healthy Weight

March 28, 2012

Jacqueline Sikoski, MS,RD,LN with Michele Dandrea, Dietitian Intern

Itís no secret that child obesity is on the rise in the United States; the percentage of obese children has nearly tripled from 1994 to 2008. Montana is lower than the national average with 26% of children ages 10-17 years who are overweight or obese. These statistics suggest that the next generation will be burdened with rising incidents of chronic disease and shorter life expectancies. Agencies across the nation are bringing more attention to factors that affect childhood obesity, such as school lunches, physical activity as well as parent and child nutrition education.

Obesity in children poses the same health risks seen in adults including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes. Evidence suggests that 70% of obese children have at least one risk for cardiovascular disease and 39% have two or more risk factors. Obese children are also prone to respiratory problems, fatty liver disease, joint pain and heartburn. Obese children commonly develop social and psychological problems which can contribute to depression. The good news is that obesity is preventable, and itís not too late to improve the health of a child who is already overweight or obese.

What can you do for your child?

Be a good example: Modeling a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your child. Avoid using food as reward or punishment, help your child develop a healthy relationship with food; educate them on how healthy foods provide energy and will allow them to grow up healthy. Parents are responsibility for providing healthy meals and snacks; allow your child to make choices on how much they eat; this will teach them to listen to their body when it says ĎIíve had enoughí and avoid overeating.

Hold regular family meals: Offer meals and snacks at the same time every day and minimize grazing. No matter what you have for meals, eat them together. This simple change can have an amazing impact on your childís relationship with food.

Be patient and positive: Make food fun by having them help shop, read food labels and prepare healthy foods. Consult a professional dietitian to determine if your child needs to actively lose weight or maintain until they reach a healthy weight to height ratio.

Use the healthy plate method: The USDA website has basic recommendations for healthy lifestyle changes and examples for offering a variety of healthy foods in the appropriate portion size. Itís a good idea to set limits on sweets but not to deny the occasional treat. A good practice is to set the limits such as 1 or 2 pre-portioned sweets/day <150 calories (1/2 c. low fat ice cream or 2 small cookies) and let your child chose which treat they prefer. This gives the child the final choice and helps avoid food battles, sneaking or bingeing in response to restrictions.

Encourage activity: Get up and move! Sports, hiking, biking, swimming, walking the dog, fitness or dancing video games, actively play together! It is recommended children actively play for 60-minutes daily. Encourage group activities your child enjoys to keep them motivated and having fun.

For more information, contact Bozeman Deaconess Nutrition Specialists at 406-522-4600.
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