How can parents help treat kids who are overweight?
Did you know current statistics place the incidence of child obesity in Israel as the highest in comparison to European countries?! Yes, you read that right. Almost 13% of children in Israel are categorized as obese, and about 29% are defined as overweight. If the upwards trend of overweight kids continues, these numbers are expected to leap by almost 50% in less than a decade – reaching approximately 740,000 overweight children in Israel. What can parents and healthcare providers do? Experts at Sheba Medical Center share the following advice.
Treating overweight children
Effective, helpful treatment for children and adolescents who suffer from obesity is actually rather simple. But that’s not to say it’s easy.
The first step parents should take is to observe the child’s daily nutritional and activity habits. Unfortunately, many of us – including our kids – live in an environment that doesn’t encourage healthy food choices and sufficient exercise.
In addition to improving your child’s nutrition and boosting their amount of physical activity, medical recommendations add another key component to the treatment program: promoting behavioral and emotional changes geared to support a healthier lifestyle.
Childhood obesity is defined as a chronic disease, so treatment must be long-term for it to work. From the very beginning, parents and kids must understand that these improvements must be designed to last a lifetime.
Treatment must be customized and dynamic
Like all medical therapies, treatment for obesity must be personalized to match each individual’s likes, dislikes and circumstances. The approach to food and exercise is dynamic, requiring sensitivity and constant adjustments to match the child’s needs at every stage. In addition, compassion and support must always be expressed, because children with excess weight are often hypersensitive and need encouragement to remain committed to the plan.
Seek professional assistance with nutrition
It’s best to consult with a qualified nutritionist, preferably a pediatric nutritionist with training in the field of childhood obesity, for effective dietary treatment. However, even before you meet with a professional, you can start independently applying the basic principles of a healthy, balanced diet to your child’s daily food. What does this mean?
- Make vegetables, fruits, whole grains and varied protein sources into mainstays of your family’s meals.
- Reduce consumption of foods high in sugar, fat and salt. That means leaving processed snacks and baked goods on the store shelves, and drinking only water instead of sweet drinks.
- Pay attention to healthy habits, such as sticking to basic meal times and avoiding snacking all day long.
Exercise is meant to be enjoyed
Many parents are stumped when it comes to knowing what type of physical activity is best for kids. There is only one correct answer: whatever the child likes! An activity that brings pleasure to your child is one that he or she will keep up for a long time.
Encourage kids to exercise outside the home. Expose them to different types of fitness classes, such as yoga, dance, cross-training and martial arts. Is your child not interested in joining a class? Suggest walking or biking to school each day.
In principle, kids and adolescents should invest about an hour each day, minimum, into moderate or higher intensity aerobic exercise. Strength training 2-3 times per week is also recommended. The good news is that many sports combine these two types of physical activity, so it’s not hard to find an exercise option to make each child happy. Check out the website of your municipality to see what’s being offered.
Checklist of how you can help an overweight child:
- Instill each kid with the basic principles of a healthy diet, including fruits and veggies, whole grains, and a diverse selection of proteins.
- Reduce their intake of foods loaded with sugar, salt, and fats.
- Make sure they drink enough water and avoid sugary drinks.
- Schedule regular mealtimes; avoid grazing and snacking all day long.
- Encourage regular physical activity, be it walking to and from school or participating in fitness classes.
To schedule a meeting and learn more about how to treat childhood obesity, contact the Sports, Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle Clinic for Children, located at the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center: 03-5308001