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Published on August 29, 2017

Overcoming Childhood Obesity: Parents are Key in the Weight-Loss Journey

September brings another summer season to an end and ushers in the hustle and bustle of a new school year. It’s also National Childhood Obesity Awareness month—a great time for parents and children to take a look at the lifestyle and nutritional issues that may be contributing to weight gain. Unfortunately, childhood obesity continues to be a pressing health issue that affects as many as one in three young people.

child dad soccer

“The sweet bird of youth is always on the side of the child when it comes to health issues related to obesity,” said Steven A. Shapiro, DO, chair of the Pediatrics Department at Abington-Jefferson Health. “While they may not be experiencing any health issues now, reversing the trend will lower their risk for problems later in life, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.”

A Family Affair—But No Quick Fixes

A recent study from the University of California San Diego tracked the effectiveness of different weight loss programs for children battling obesity. The researchers found that programs educating parents—without active participation from the children themselves—were just as effective as programs targeting children directly.

What these results suggest is that parents are key participants in the weight-loss journey for their children. Focusing on healthier living as an entire family benefits everyone.

However, even with promising study results like these, there are no quick fixes.

“Physicians are advocates for weight-loss programs with proven benefits, and it makes sense that involving parents and the rest of the family will benefit children,” said Dr. Shapiro. “However, it will still take a lot of hard work. In the end, it boils down to a simple equation: Calories-in must be less than calories-out for effective weight loss.”

Does Your Child Need to Lose Weight?

“The way I assess a child is by measuring their BMI and comparing it to other children their age,” said Dr. Shapiro. “If a child falls above the 85th percentile for BMI, we’ll evaluate their lifestyle and what may be contributing to their higher-than-average weight.”

Dr. Shapiro advises that a greater-than-average BMI is not necessarily a problem for every child. For example, a high-school football player with a BMI of 30 may be perfectly healthy if they are focused on proper nutrition and working out for their sport. Each child must be evaluated on an individual basis.

“A football player with a BMI of 30 is in a much different situation than another child of a similar weight who spends their time playing video games,” said Dr. Shapiro. “That’s why it’s important to take a holistic view of their lifestyle.”

How to Start Battling Childhood Obesity

Dr. Shapiro advocates the “5-2-1-0 rule” as the best approach for helping kids stay healthy and maintain—or reach—a healthy weight:

  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which could be as simple as five slices of an apple.
  • 2 hours of screen time as a maximum, including time spent on homework.
  • 1 hour of exercise, which can be playing outside, gardening or anything that gets them active.
  • 0 drinks with carbohydrates, which means no juice, soda or milk.

“Sugary drinks, even healthier ones like juice, are packed with calories,” said Dr. Shapiro. “One 8-ounce glass of orange juice has about 28 grams of sugar—a child would have to ride their bike for four and a half hours to burn that off.”

Removing sugary drinks from a child’s diet instantaneously reduces their caloric intake by as much as 30 percent.

“Again, keep in mind that there is no silver bullet for weight loss,” said Dr. Shapiro. “But focusing on improving your child’s diet and increasing their activity level are proven to help.”

To find an Abington - Jefferson Health pediatrician, call 215-481-MEDI.

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