Maintaining a healthy weight by developing healthy eating habits and limiting calorie-rich temptations are just as important in kids as it is in adults. The number of children who need weight management has continued to rise over the years. Obesity in childhood can lead to immediate or future health risks. As parents, it’s important to know that kids must never be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a proper health care provider and that you alone, can act as your kid’s coping mechanism. 

Introducing lifestyle changes, making them feel loved in their own body, and utilising every single opportunity to help them build on their self-esteem without being critical and judgemental can help solve the problem to a great extent. 

Consultant Paediatrician of Motherhood Women & Children’s Hospital, Bangalore, Dr Lini Balakrishnan shares a clear understanding of obesity in children, and recommends food and lifestyle changes parents must introduce to their kids in order to manage weight.

1. How can a parent understand if their child is overweight for his or her age?

A child’s health can be determined by looking at their height, weight and Body Mass Index or more commonly known as BMI. Parents must first be aware that obesity among children is a real problem and that it can affect their day to day activities. Using the BMI method is one of the simplest methods for a parent to understand their child’s health. The BMI chart explains what an average child of a certain height and age must weigh. The chart helps parents identify what is actually normal in a child and what is not and thus, parents can map the height and weight to determine the ideal weight for a particular height and age. It is not easy to identify obesity in children and definitely not easy putting them on a controlled diet either.

2. Are the terms Overweight and Obese interchange-able?

The terms overweight and obese are definitely two different terms used in two different circumstances. Both terms are concerned with weight gain however, they represent two entirely different concepts. 

Overweight is a term that is used when someone has gained extra weight.

For example, in children, when the BMI is 85th or below 95th percentile it is called overweight. However, when the BMI is over 95th percentile it means the child is obese.

In simpler terms when one’s weight is slightly over the BMI scale, they are called overweight but when the gain is drastically higher it means they are obese. Being overweight is not as complicated as dealing with obesity.

3. What are the factors that lead to unhealthy weight gain in children?

One of the major contributions towards weight gain among children is their interest in consuming sugary food items like candies, processed food, soda, and other food products high in preservatives and calories. Other factors include insufficient physical exercise, overuse of gadgets and television, lack of sleep and use of excessive medication. Obesity needs to be tackled immediately and nipped in the bud, if the problem persists for too long without any kind of control, it can lead to severe health risks like liver diseases, blood pressure, breathing problems, and so on. This also puts your child at risk of being bullied, facing depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

4. Is it possible for a child to develop cholesterol & have high or low blood sugar levels so young?

Yes! When obesity is not brought under control children do have a higher chance of facing severe health risks like cholesterol, high or low blood sugar levels, and several other complications as well. On an average, children burn around 1,600 to 2,200 calories every day. When they remain inactive for longer periods of time, they tend to burn lesser calories which result in weight gain, in turn leading to obesity. Obesity is a problem that is often gone unnoticed and results in severe health risks in the long run.

5. What are some of the foods a parent must include in their child’s diet to enable a feeling of satiety and reduce sense of deprivation or being on a diet?

One of the first things that parents need to curb is offering food as compensation for a job well done or as a bribe to get things done. There are other ways to get things done but food is not one of them. This will encourage children to turn to food for every situation they face in the future, encouraging weight gain which will lead to obesity. 

Eggs, beans, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, milk, protein, nuts, berries, whole grains, lots of vegetables, dahi and even a limited amount of cheese help in maintaining your child’s diet and feeling of fullness. These foods give them the required carbs, protein, energy, calories and much more, to make sure they have a balanced healthy diet.

6. What are some foods parents must eliminate from the child’s diet to help bring their weight in control?

  • One of the best ways to encourage weight loss in children is by switching from processed food, juices, and other edible products that contain preservatives to organic, home-cooked food, and fresh juices. 
  • Making sure your child gets enough fibre is another important thing to keep in mind because this will encourage healthy digestion and a smooth bowel movement.
  • Vegetables and fruits are a great way to encourage weight loss in children. 
  • Start opting for fruits and nuts or nut butters as snack options instead of processed or store-bought options. 
  • Smoothies are another delicious and healthy way to make sure your child’s appetite is satisfied.
  • Make sure to opt for healthier food choices like whole-wheat bread and pasta, and wholemeal rice.

7. Are there any diagnostic tests needed to check if an underlying condition is causing weight gain?

A few medical conditions that can cause weight gain in children are asthma, allergies, depression, growth hormone (GH) deficiency, hypothyroidism, and insulinoma, leptin resistance, prader-willie syndrome, and side effects of existing medication. Although these are rarely the causes for weight gain, it is always good to get your child tested and checked professionally when you feel that you are unable to get the weight gain under control. 

Talking to a medical professional will be of great help in these cases as they will be able to identify the underlying problem with other existing symptoms and recommend the required tests to be taken to check for underlying conditions.

8. What are some lifestyle changes that can be introduced in the child’s routine to help manage their weight?

One of the major things to incorporate in your child’s life is physical activity. Making sure they go out and play and get at least 60 minutes to several hours of exercise a day is crucial for children to lose weight. Physical activity will also encourage the burning of calories, avoiding weight gain in the first place. Stick to child-like portions. Encourage healthy snacks and meals and cut down on processed food items like sugary substances, store bought snacks and processed food and drinks. Cut down on your child’s screen time and encourage them to sleep more. Good sleep encourages weight loss.

9. When is it advisable to take the child to a professional nutritionist or dietician?

When you notice your efforts to encourage weight loss in your child are not very effective, make sure to consult a doctor immediately. The doctor will be able to recommend tests or steps that can be taken to encourage weight loss or in identifying the factors behind weight loss. It is also important to take your child regularly for their appointments with their doctor to ensure that they don’t get obese or have a sudden weight gain. The regular appointments will allow the doctor to keep track of your child’s health, weight, height and BMI. A nutritionist or a dietician will also help recommend appropriate changes that can be made in your child’s lifestyle that will encourage weight loss.

10. How do you know if your child is truly overweight or whether it’s just baby fat and they’ll grow out of it?

The easiest and simplest way to track your child’s growth and weight gain is by keeping a track of their growth using a BMI chart. This will help you identify when your child is growing too fast for their age.

Baby fat is normal, but it definitely does not mean your child will gain extra weight in a short period of time. What most people consider as baby fat has resulted in obesity in children in their later years.

Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on your child’s growth and the speed at which they are gaining weight. Another effective alternative is to check with your doctor to make sure that you are on the right track.

Disclaimer: This is for the general information of the readers. Always consult a paediatrician for a child’s specific health problems.