Editor’s note: This post was updated on October 15, 2021 to reflect the latest information on childhood obesity.
You are not alone in having an overweight or obese child. Childhood obesity among school-age children (6 to 11 years) has dramatically increased from 6.5% in 1976 to 20.3% for 2017-2018. In adolescents (12 to 19 years), the prevalence has gone up from 5% in 1976 to 21.2% for 2017-2018.
This increase is caused by a number of factors, which generally include poor eating habits, lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles due to watching TV and playing video games. Pediatricians also are finding childhood obesity at much younger ages, often in children under age 5.
“Obesity in children not only can affect their health as a child, but also as they grow into adults,” said Dr. Richard Willes, a pediatric cardiology and weight management specialist at Marshfield Children’s.
A vanishingly few number of obese children have a problem with their endocrine glands, but it’s important to rule out thyroid disorder or a steroid hormone imbalance, which will need more specific treatment.
Being supportive of overweight children is important
With an obese child, it’s vitally important that the parents and other adults in the child’s life are supportive and accepting. Make sure he or she feels loved, special and important. Here are some tips to help you be supportive while also encouraging healthy choices:
- Provide healthy food and drink options. This includes more vegetables and water and less soft drinks and high-fat or high-calorie snack foods.
- Integrate movement into stationary activities like watching TV, playing video games or being on the computer. For example, have your child walk on the treadmill while playing video games.
- Set a good example by being active as a family. Go out for a walk or participate in a sport.
- Avoid activities that embarrass your child.
“While all of these are great steps you can take with your child, these steps are often most successful when the entire family is working on it,” said Dr. Anoop Iqbal, a pediatric endocrinology and weight management specialist at Marshfield Children’s. “It’s just like if you are dieting and your significant other eats ice cream every night. Eventually, you are going to want that ice cream, too.”
Consult your child’s doctor if these steps fail to reduce your child’s weight. Your doctor should have materials to help you or may refer you to other health care professionals who work with overweight children. In some cases, a weight-control program may be necessary.
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, talk with your child’s primary care provider. Click here to learn more about our pediatric Lifestyle Management Clinic.