Managing and treating overweight or obese children and adolescents is difference in comparison to adults. Management of childhood obesity is not accomplished by diet alone. The treatment must involve the family and needs to take into account multiple aspects of the child’s lifestyle, food habits, physical activity patterns and psychological health to ensure that the child’s weight management goals are met. Here is what can be done.
Accept your child is overweight: The first step in managing an overweight child is to accept that the child is overweight or obese and take necessary action to prevent further weight gain.
Focus on maintaining weight and not losing weight: Weight management should not focus on weight loss but rather on maintaining weight or reducing the rate of weight gain. It is easier for overweight children to shed weight as they are still growing particularly in height. Weight management strategies should focus on slowing down the rate of weight gain through controlled eating as well as increased physical activity.
Encourage children to adopt a healthy lifestyle: Lifestyles and behaviours are established at a young age. It is important for parents and children to remain educated and focused on making long-term healthy lifestyle choices.
All children are growing and shouldn’t be on diets irrespective of their weight. Parents must remember that children need food for energy, proper growth, development and a strong immune system. Putting them on low calorie diets will compromise their intake of vital nutrients resulting in deficiencies that will not only affect their growth but will also have long-term negative effects on health. Encourage your child to adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep.
Here are some tips:
Plan and provide nutritious home cooked meals and snacks. Do not forbid favourite foods as it will lead your child to crave for them even more.
Monitor your child’s portion sizes. Do not serve them large portions at one time. Serve smaller portions of food and let your child ask for a second helping if desired. Let the child decide how much he or she wants to eat. Do not force-feed your child to eat more when they say that they are full. Make small-sized chapattis, idlis, cutlets, etc. Small-sized portions trick the brain into eating less as most of us subconsciously judge the quantity of food eaten by numbers. For example we feel more satisfied if we have two small chapattis rather one big chapatti.
Reduce intake of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. Sweetened beverages provide more calories in a single serving and we fail to count the calories that come from beverages.
See that your child eats vegetables and salads. Most vegetables except for the starchy ones like potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc, have high water and fibre content which helps one feel full faster. They also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidant plant compounds. Encourage children to eat whole fruits rather than having fruit juices.
Ensure that every meal includes a serving of protein. Meals that contain adequate amount of protein and fat along with whole grain cereals keep children feeling full longer.
Keep nutritious snacks like chikki, laddoos made of rajgira, besan, moong ragi or multigrain, dry fruit and nuts handy so that your child does not need to snack on biscuits, chips, etc.
Serve food in smaller plates and bowls and pre plate food so that your child can see exactly what they are eating. Do not allow them to eat out of a packet or bag.
Do not eat while watching television or reading. Eat meals as a family at the table.
Encourage children to eat slowly and chew their food thoroughly.
Reduce the frequency of eating out or ordering fast food.
Parents need to discourage children from lazing around too much and should encourage them to become more active by
Restricting the time spent watching television or playing computer games.
Encouraging children to play games outdoor with friends.
Taking them for a brisk walk.
Climbing stairs rather than taking the elevator.
Ensuring your child gets sound sleep at night. Lack of sleep causes daytime fatigue and drowsiness and makes one crave for foods that give a quick energy boost.
Last but not the least; tackle emotional or psychological issues that are prompting your child to eat for comfort.
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 17 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)