My youngest daughter is on the verge of being overweight. I don't want to single her out or embarrass her, but I do want to help her deal with this now and not let it get out of control. What is the best way to deal with this when her siblings don't have the same problem?
Our children and teen-agers are no exception to the alarming numbers of overweight people in America. Television, computers and video games keep our young people sitting still rather than running or jumping, and all kinds of sweet and fatty snacks are readily available. The result is children gradually putting on more weight.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gives us the most complete and accurate picture of our children's growth and fitness. By 1999, 13 percent of children ages 6 through 11, and 14 percent ages 12 through 19, were at or beyond the 95th percentile for weight (the definition for obesity) on nationally standard growth charts. This compares with 4 percent of children and 5 percent of adolescents in the 1960s.
Although gender-specific figures for 1999 have not been published, in the previous wave of the study (1988-94) boys and young men were overweight 2 percentage points more often than girls and young women.
Overweight children are prone to be overweight as adults and more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mobility limitations and stroke.
Excess weight prevents children from fully participating and enjoying physical games and sports, and can lead to cruel teasing and bullying. The societal value placed on "thinness" today makes the plight of the overweight youngster doubly difficult.
Before using diet and exercise to get your child to a desired weight, schedule a checkup with a family physician or pediatrician.
Occasionally, a child's weight problem may be caused by a genetic, metabolic or hormonal condition, especially if the weight gain is sudden, extreme or occurs in a younger child. The physician can also determine if a medication or another substance is the root problem.
If your child seems to be healthy, the best way to manage her weight is to change her lifestyle and the whole family's. A lifestyle change may include more opportunities for exercise and adopting a balanced and healthy diet.
Tackling the problem as a family adds the double benefit of avoiding stigma for the child and plotting a more healthful future for the entire family, who may also be at risk of being overweight and incurring medical problems.
One of the biggest changes a family can make surrounds diet. Families should concentrate on eating more grains, starches, fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on concentrated sweets and items high in fat.
Eliminate unhealthy snacks between meals and avoid using food items as rewards. This decreases overall daily caloric intake. Highly restrictive diets are hardly ever needed or advised.
Another lifestyle change includes exercise. This doesn't have to be strenuous to be effective; a little bit every day or several times a week is better than a whole lot at once. Walking, hiking, cycling, swimming and ice or roller-skating are attractive to many families, and the activity can vary with the seasons.
Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; or www.health.family.org.