March 19, 2004

Seeking help for an overweight child or adolescent

By Karla Rodas

American children are tipping the scales according to the Centers for Disease Control 1999-2000 data. Children ages 6 to 19 make up 15 percent of the overweight population.

How can parents identify overweight in their child and what help should they seek? First, parents have to understand what the terms overweight and obese mean. Overweight is determined by a doctor or health care professional. This can be calculated by using a Body Mass Index growth chart which measures height and weight.

Most parents can observe if their child is overweight and inactive. If this is true for their child, parents must determine what in their environment is preventing a healthier way of life. Then they can look for opportunities to be active and eat healthy foods.

Overweight children need to be encouraged by their parents. Being a role model by eating healthy and engaging in physical activity are steps that can help children make positive changes according to recommendations from the surgeon general’s office.

Many overweight children don’t need to lose weight. Instead, a goal could be to maintain their current weight while growing in height. It’s important that any weight management program be supervised by a physician.

Seeking care in childhood can help prevent obesity from continuing into adulthood. Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese. Overweight or obese adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer according to information from the surgeon general.

After seeking advice from a doctor parents can play an active role in their child’s health. Parents can help their family include physical activity as part of their lives in order to meet the recommended 30 minutes for adults and 60 minutes for children most days of the week.

“It’s important that you’re helping your child get active,” said Leah McClanahan of the San Diego Coalition on Children and Weight “just walking with your child can help.”

Changes in lifestyle can be made by replacing some sedentary activities such as watching TV with exercise. It can be made fun by including the whole family in activities like walking and playing at local parks.

“Because of safety issues, kids don’t go out [alone] to play,” said McClanahan.

This fact can be remedied by parents providing a safe environment and taking part in the activity as well. After-school programs or local recreation centers provide activity through sports and fitness.

A child’s diet is important also and should include nutritious choices. Making simple choices like replacing soft drinks and sugary snacks with water and fruits and vegetables can help.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for healthy eating are available from a dietician or the website www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines. The American Dietetic Association can help parents find a dietician through their website www.eatright.org.

Health exams at no cost are offered by San Diego’s Division of Public Health. The program, named CHDP (Child Health and Disability Prevention), links parents with providers. Services offered include height, weight and blood pressure screenings and physical exams. For eligibility requirements and program information contact CHDP at (800) 675-2229.

Karla Rodas is an intern with the UCSD San Diego EXPORT Center and is a journalism student at San Diego State University. The San Diego EXPORT Center is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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