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Surveys show that more than a third of all children and adolescents are either obese or overweight. In fact, the number of overweight and obese children and teenagers has more than tripled over the last few decades.

Although some parents think it is normal for children to be on the chubby side, doctors are worried that excess weight may increase their risk for future health problems.

Studies show that obese children have a greater risk for developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels, which make them susceptible to heart disease and diabetes. They are also at greater risk of developing sleep apnea, joint and bone problems, and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem, that could also impact their social well-being. Obese and overweight children are also more likely to become obese adults, which could increase their risk for chronic health problems, including cancer.

With these in mind, parents and healthcare providers must take an active role in encouraging children to maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that having one or both parents who are obese increases the likelihood that their child will also be obese. Therefore, it is also important for parents to watch their weights and maintain good health, which have a great impact on their family.

There are many reasons why children and adolescents become overweight, and these include poor eating habits, overeating, lack of exercise, poor self-esteem, depression, family problems, and medical illnesses and medications that can affect weight gain.

If a child has no medical problems the best way to improve weight is to reduce the number of calories consumed and to increase physical activity. However, if he/she has other symptoms that may be a cause of concern, it is best to consult a family doctor or pediatrician so that a thorough medial evaluation can be done.

How to Manage Obesity in Children and Adolescents

Managing weight problems in children must involve the whole family, because children often eat whatever food is available at home and at school and in restaurants and fast food outlets where the family eats. They may also follow the same eating patterns of their parents and siblings. Here are some ways to manage overweight and obesity issues:

  • Modify eating habits by encouraging them to eat slowly and to chew their food well.

  • Develop a healthy routine by trying to eat a good breakfast.

  • Plan meals and try to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods with less sugar and fat.

  • Find out what children eat in school. Pack a healthy lunch for them, which includes whole fruits and vegetables.

  • Eat meals at home as a family. Limit eating fast foods.

  • Avoid using food, such as ice cream or candy, as rewards for good work or behavior.

  • Limit snacking and avoid eating junk foods.

  • Increase outdoor activities, and reduce TV and/or computer time.

How Much Weight Loss is Healthy?

It is not advisable for children and adolescents to try to lose weight fast. Since they are growing and active, drastic changes in weight can affect their metabolism and development.

Experts agree that for overweight children who are 2-5 years old, weight maintenance is all that is required. However, if they are obese, a minimal weight loss may be attempted, at 0.5 kg per month.

For overweight children who are 6 to 11 years old, only weight maintenance is needed, but a minimum weight loss of 0.5 kg per month may be needed for those who are obese. Those who are severely obese may try to lose up to 1 kg per week.

Overweight adolescents (12-18 years) may maintain their weights, but obese teenagers may try to reduce excess weight by not more than 1 kg per week.

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