What You Can Do When Your Child Is Obese

by Holley Nash, RDN, LD

My child has been diagnosed with obesity – what now?

It is important for parents to understand both what qualifies as obesity in children, and what the long-term health consequences are for children with obesity. The reality is that most Americans have become so acclimated to the sight of overweight and obese children, that many adults consider healthy weight children “skinny.” This attitude interferes with many parents’ ability to accurately determine if their children are gaining too much weight. Consequently, parents are often unprepared and stunned when the pediatrician tells them that their child is overweight or obese.

Evaluating your child’s Weight

Obesity is measured using the ratio of a person’s weight to their height, and for children that number is plotted on a growth chart. A child or teen who falls between the 85th and 95th percentile on the growth chart is considered overweight, and those who fall in the 95th percentile or above have obesity. According to the latest figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is the case for approximately 18.5% or 13.7 million American children between the ages of 2 and 19.

Why is this important? Because childhood overweight and obesity come with serious short- and long-term consequences for children’s physical and mental health.

Consequences of Childhood Overweight and Obesity

What you can do when your child is obese

Children with obesity have three times more healthcare expenditures than children at healthy weights, costing an estimated $14 billion every year. This is due to an array of negative health consequences linked to their condition:

  • Asthma
  • Orthopedic problems such as Blount's disease (bowed legs) and slipped capital femoral epiphysis
  • Early puberty

Potential Negative Psychological Outcomes:

  • Depression
  • Poor Body Image
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Higher risk for Eating Disorders
  • Behavior and Learning Problems (children with weight issues are more likely to miss school and repeat a grade than children who are at a healthy weight)

Potential Negative Physical Outcomes:

Children with obesity are more likely to suffer chronic diseases and cardiovascular conditions that used to be seen only in adults:

  • Insulin Resistance
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • High Cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood
  • Low HDL Cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty deposits and inflammation of the liver)

Furthermore, children who have obesity are far more likely to have obesity as adults, which puts them at a much higher risk for life-threatening diseases including stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers.

What can you do?

What you can do when your child is obese

The good news is that children are very resilient and are still growing, so there is a lot you can do to turn the tide! The first and most important thing is to find professional help. Have your pediatrician refer your child to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in pediatrics, or find one through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or contact us here at TD Wellness. Your child’s dietitian will help guide you in making small steps toward lasting lifestyle change and develop a balanced eating plan for your entire family.

What you DO NOT want to do is

  • Put your child on a weight loss diet (unless expressly instructed and closely followed by your RDN and/or pediatrician)
  • Shame or tease your child about their weight
  • Forbid your child from eating certain foods or food groups
  • Pressure your child to eat less or to lose weight

What you can do is

  • Limit sugar sweetened beverages (colas, Gatorade, juices, sweet tea)
  • Limit foods high in sugar and fat (sugar sweetened cereals, fried foods, processed meats, fast food)
  • Increase active time: spend more time playing, walking or riding bikes with your child
  • Eat more fruits and veggies – the goal is 4-5 servings per day…every day!
  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Growing bodies need lots of ZZZZs

With proper lifestyle changes, support from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and your child’s continued growth, reaching a healthy weight should be a very attainable goal. The best part is that the journey to better health is one that your entire family can share and be proud of for many years to come. Please contact us for a full evaluation.

References:

Hales, C. M., Carroll, M. D., Frayer, C. D., & Ogden, C. L. (2018, August 13). Childhood obesity facts [Fact sheet]. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

Obesity Society. (2014, May). Childhood overweight. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from The Obesity Society website: http://tosconnect.obesity.org/obesity/resources/facts-about-obesity/childhood-overweight

Partnership for a healthier America. (2017). Facts about childhood obesity. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.ahealthieramerica.org/articles/facts-about-childhood-obesity-102