How to recognize childhood obesity

How to recognize childhood obesity

Addressing Weight Problems Early to Offset Future Problems

It’s not easy to admit your child is overweight. You want to believe pudge is baby fat the child will outgrow. Or maybe you’ve come to believe extra pounds make him or her strong and healthy. But ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And, in the long run, extra weight leads to health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, recurring headaches, obstructive sleep apnea, and even depression.

“It’s a real problem,” says Dr. Kenny Nguyen, a pediatrician for Winter-Haven-based Bond Clinic. “The family has to know it’s real and can harm kids.” Dr. Shani-Kay T. Chambers, a pediatrician in Gessler Clinic’s Winter Haven office and Polk County medical Association member, adds, “A healthy childhood is a foundation for good health as an adult.”

To combat obesity, Dr. Nguyen recommends no fast food, no buffets, no fatty foods, plus no candy, cookies, or sugary drinks. What they should have is three meals a day and plenty of water, instead of soda. When the kids skip breakfast, they may eat three fast food hamburgers for lunch. He also discourages snacks after 7 p.m. because they turn to fat.

Dr. Nguyen recommends staying active, even if that means using a treadmill in front of the television or using a Wii Fitness tennis game. At least “with Wii Fitness, they exercise more than their thumbs,” he quips.

Dr. Chambers also recommends eliminating junk food, fast foods, and sodas. “That rule is hard for adults to follow, let alone children,” she concedes. “Fast food should be limited to once a week. Juice should be limited to one cup a day, due to its sugar content. Otherwise, have your child drink water.”

To avoid that deprived feeling, she advises moderation when children are confronted with holiday or birthday treats. “It is ok to have a piece of chocolate,” Dr. Chambers elaborates, “but it is not ok for that same child to have a chicken nugget kids meal, with french fries, soda, ice-cream, and a king size chocolate bar in the same day.”

She also recommends exercising together as a family to stay fit. “Go on family walks/runs/bike rides,” she says. “Play basketball or soccer with your children. Enroll your child in sport activities in school.”

While it’s easy to blame genetics for being overweight, it’s going to be a problem “only if you eat too much,” Dr. Nguyen observes. “If you eat the right amount of calories and you’re active, you won’t have that type of problem.”

You can learn if your child is overweight by talking about his or her weight patterns with a pediatrician. A child is diagnosed as overweight based on body mass index (BMI), calculated from weight and height, and plotted on a BMI chart. When a child reaches 85 percent, they are overweight. When they reach 95 percent, they are obese. You can calculate your child’s BMI at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/.

If your child hasn’t reached his full height, they shouldn’t be losing weight, but slowing the gain, says Dr. Ron Williams, director of pediatric weight management at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Health System, Hershey, Pa. “I don’t want to cut calories, which could prevent growth,” Williams says. “You have 8 to 10 year olds who are close to their adult weight; they will grow taller and into their weight.”

CREDITS

story by CHERYL ROGERS and BEV BENNETT