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Beat the Baby Fat This Summer  
Get Kids Moving for Healthy Weight 

Keeping “baby fat” for too long can put a child’s health at risk. How can you help your child get fit and maintain a healthy weight into adulthood? According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.

  • Get your family focused on fitness: Be a positive role model by involving your entire family in a program that includes better eating and regular exercise
  • Find a diet that fits: Research whole foods and help your children choose healthy long-term eating habits
  • Turn off the tube: Provide and encourage physically active alternatives to TV and video games
  • Try parental training: Improve the results of treating childhood obesity by learning valuable techniques that can help you alter your child’s behavior
  • Get a checkup for your child: Visit a doctor to determine if any treatable health problems are developing as a result of childhood obesity

Excessive weight in children and adolescents is becoming an increasingly serious problem. In the United States, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are overweight, and among adolescents the percentage is three times higher than it was 20 years ago. Major contributors to childhood obesity include genetics, unhealthy diets, and sedentary lifestyles. Overweight children often become adults with weight problems that contribute to a wide variety of health problems, but even during childhood and adolescence, overweight can contribute to such disorders as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and liver disease. Being overweight also has social and psychological consequences for children in terms of social discrimination, poor self-esteem, and depression.

Parents, family members, and others who are important people in a child’s life can either help or harm an obese child’s situation. As with all children, those with weight problems need acceptance, support, and encouragement from their family, and the eating, exercising, and other health habits of family members play important roles in influencing the same behaviors in children.

Symptoms

The proper weight for a growing child or adolescent should be determined with the help of a doctor or other qualified health professional, who can also determine whether any unusual medical problems might be contributing to weight gain, whether any current health problems exist that are related to overweight, and appropriate weight control methods. Treating obesity should not include overly restrictive or fad diets that are missing essential nutrients. In fact, weight loss is not necessarily appropriate for a growing child. Often the best goal for an overweight child is to maintain their current weight as they grow taller.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Lack of physical activity is considered a significant contributing factor in childhood obesity. However, while the results of treatment of overweight children are usually enhanced by strategies to increase physical activity or decrease inactivity, attempts to improve physical activity levels have not been very successful in preventing childhood obesity according to most controlled research. Nonetheless, watching television and playing computer or video games contributes to the sedentary lifestyle of many children, and controlled research has shown that weight management is more successful when these activities are monitored and healthier alternatives provided. Children are recommended to get at least an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, and more may be necessary to offset genetic and other influences. Fun activities that involve other family members or other children will help make getting more exercise a positive experience.

Weight-loss efforts that involve excessive restriction of calories or protein can inhibit a child’s ability to gain lean body mass (such as muscle) during the normal growth process. Consequently, weight-loss diets for children should not be excessively restrictive. In addition, an appropriate exercise program can be a useful addition to a low-calorie diet for overweight children. A controlled trial found that strength training, when added to a low-calorie diet, resulted in a greater gain of lean body mass (while still promoting weight loss), compared with diet alone in obese children. Another study of obese adolescents found that a physical exercise program combined with normal calorie intake resulted in reductions in body weight and body fat while allowing for normal growth and preservation of lean body mass.

Holistic Options

Behavior-change techniques are considered useful for helping people break old habits and form more healthful habits. These techniques may be learned from counseling professionals, support groups, educational programs, or books. Many controlled studies have investigated various methods for using behavior-change techniques to prevent or treat childhood obesity, with several reporting success at reducing overweight compared with either no treatment or with conventional weight-loss approaches.

Parental involvement in the treatment of childhood obesity is considered important for success, especially when parents are given adequate training in a wide range of behavior-change techniques that can be applied to the entire family. Limited research suggests that training parents alone is superior to training either children alone or training both parents and children. Some authorities suggest that training parents alone produces the best results because this avoids affecting the child’s self-esteem and willingness to change, which might result from labeling him or her as “the patient.”

Problem-solving techniques are used in some types of counseling to help people maintain changes in their behavior. In one controlled study, teaching problem-solving techniques to parents in addition to behavior-change techniques improved weight-loss results in obese children compared with a group learning only behavior-change techniques. However, another controlled study found no additional benefit when problem-solving training was given to either the child or to both child and parent.

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. The scientific research for childhood obesity has discovered benefits in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Eat a heart-healthy diet Most authorities believe that the best diet for treating childhood obesity is a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, but high in vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients.
Find a diet that fits Research whole foods and help your children choose healthy long-term eating habits.
Go low-carb A study found that overweight adolescents lost more weight with a low-carbohydrate diet than with a low-fat diet, however, more research is needed to validate this finding.
Keep an eye on the GI Glycemic index and glycemic load measure how much foods raise blood sugar. Kids eating a low-glycemic-load diet have been shown to lose more weight than kids on a typical low-calorie, low-fat diet.
No need to fast Very-low-calorie “modified fasting” diets have helped kids lose weight in the short-term, but the weight often returns and health risks are associated with the use of these diets.

Parents: Kids That Play Hard, Sleep Better

Trouble getting the kids to bed at night? Exercise could be the answer. Children who are more physically active during the day are more likely to fall asleep quickly at bedtime, according to a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. “These findings emphasize the importance of physical activity for children, not only for fitness, cardiovascular health, and weight control, but also for promoting good sleep,” said the study’s authors.

Sleep for health

The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. For children, less sleep can also lead to shorter stature; it’s during the sleeping hours that hormones are released that promote proper growth. During sleep is also when most healing takes place. So what predicts how quickly children fall asleep and how much sleep they ultimately get?

Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, aimed to determine the factors linked to the time it takes to fall asleep once in bed (sleep latency) in children. Gathering data from 519 children (average age 7 years) who took part in the Auckland Birthweight Collaborative, they found that the average sleep latency time was 26 minutes. More physical activity was associated with shorter sleep latency times, while time spent in sedentary activity (like sitting on the couch or in the car) was associated with longer sleep latency. For every hour during the day spent in sedentary activity, it took the children three minutes longer to fall asleep at night. Shorter sleep latency times were also associated with longer total sleep duration.

Carving the time to play

The study “provides evidence to support a long-held parental belief that physical activity promotes sleep in children,” the team commented. But with the trend in many schools towards cutting recess and physical education programs, children have less opportunity during the day to get the exercise that their minds and bodies need. Help make exercise a priority for your family.

  • Go for a bike ride together after school. Children are more likely to pick up the exercise habit if you’re active, too. Plus, it’s more fun together.
  • Plan day hikes on the weekends. Let your kids help pick the destination. If a whole day is too difficult to schedule, look for some fun city walks to local destinations of interest. Get out a map of your town or city and take turns picking places to visit.
  • Ask your children’s school to keep scheduled physical activity times during the day. We can’t afford to lose this opportunity for our children.

Copyright © 2010 Aisle7. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Aisle7® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Aisle7. Healthnotes Newsletter is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Aisle7 shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. AISLE7 is a registered trademark of Aisle7 in the United States and other jurisdictions. 

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