Because medications and surgeries aren't recommended for children age 12 and younger and aren't often recommended for children older than 12, lifestyle changes are usually the best childhood obesity treatment. Your child's best chance to get to a healthy weight is to start eating a healthy diet and exercising more.
Parents are the ones who buy the food, cook the food and decide where the food is eaten. Even small changes can make a big difference in your child's health.
- Encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Make sure you always have healthy snacks available. Leave a fruit bowl on the counter. Keep cut-up fruits and vegetables in the front of your refrigerator. The goal is for your child to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Limit sweetened beverages, including those containing fruit juice and sports drinks. These drinks provide little nutritional value in exchange for their high calories. They can also make your child feel too full to eat healthier foods.
- Eat family meals together. Sit down at the table together. Turn off TVs and other electronic devices so that you can pay attention to each other and to how much you're eating.
- Eat home more often. Try to keep your visits to fast-food and other restaurants to a minimum. Many of the menu options are high in fat and calories.
Physical activity is a crucial part of getting to and maintaining a healthy weight. Activity burns calories and helps build strong bones and muscles. It also helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. Establishing healthy habits in childhood increases the odds that your teen will be able to maintain a healthy weight despite the hormonal changes, rapid growth and social influences that often lead to overeating. Active children also are more likely to become fit adults.
To increase your child's activity level:
Feb. 15, 2014
- Keep screen time to 2 hours a day or less. A surefire way to increase your child's activity levels is to limit the number of hours he or she is allowed to watch television each day. Other sedentary activities — playing video and computer games or talking on the phone — also should be limited.
- Emphasize activity, not exercise. Your child's activity doesn't have to be a structured exercise program — the object is just to get him or her moving. Free-play activities — such as playing hide-and-seek, tag or jump-rope — can be great for burning calories and improving fitness.
- Find activities your child likes to do. For instance, if your child is artistically inclined, go on a nature hike to collect leaves and rocks that your child can use to make a collage. If your child likes to climb, head for the nearest neighborhood jungle gym or climbing wall. If your child likes to read, then walk or bike to the neighborhood library for a book.
- If you want an active child, be active yourself. Find fun activities that the whole family can do together. Never make exercise seem like a punishment or a chore.
- Vary the activities. Let each child take a turn choosing the activity of the day or week. Batting practice, bowling and swimming all count. What matters is that you're doing something active.
- About BMI for children and teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_BMI/about_childrens_BMI.html. Accessed Sept 25, 2013.
- Understanding childhood obesity. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/Obesity/Childhood-Obesity_UCM_304347_Article.jsp. Accessed Sept. 25, 2013.
- Hay WW, et al. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics. 21st ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=14. Accessed Sept. 18, 2013.
- Huang JS, et al. Childhood obesity for pediatric gastroenterologists. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2013;56:99.
- Klish WJ. Definition; epidemiology; and etiology of obesity in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 18, 2013.
- Barlow SE, et al. Expert committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: Summary report. Pediatrics. 2007;120:S164.
- Currie C, et al. Is obesity at individual and national level associated with lower age at menarche? Evidence from 34 countries in the health behaviour in school-aged children study. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2012;50:621.
- Keeping children at a healthy weight: A review of the research on ways to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?pageaction=displayproduct&productID=1714. Accessed Sept. 18, 2013.
- Skelton JA. Management of childhood obesity in the primary care setting. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 18, 2013.
- Petjar R, et al. Pharmacological management of obese child. Archives of Diseases in Childhood Education and Practice Edition. 2013;98:108.
- Sherafat-Kazemzadeh R, et al. Pharmacotherapy for childhood obesity: present and future prospects. International Journal of Obesity. 2013;37:1.
- O'Gorman CSM, et al. Considering statins for cholesterol-reduction in children if lifestyle and diet changes do not improve their health: a review of the risks and benefits. Vascular Health and Risk Management. 2011:7;1.