Nearly two-thirds of this U.S. group are overweight. In fact, 17 percent are obese, with the rate tripling from 1971 to 2011. (1) Worst of all, these folks are being exposed to a whole host of health issues that were previously quite rare in this group. Who am I talking about? Children, of course, which is why it’s so important to learn how to lose weight for kids.
Today, one in five youths aged 6–19 are obese. And while there are lots of public health suggestions floating around about how to best deal with this issue — which affects children not only physically but also emotionally — there’s one standing above the pack: getting parents involved and learning how to lose weight for kids. What’s the best way to do that? Focusing on parents, not children, during childhood obesity treatment.
It might sound counterintuitive. After all, if children are the ones with the health problem, doesn’t it make sense to have them attend treatment meetings? But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that there was no difference in weight loss outcomes when only parents attended the treatment versus parents and children together. (2) Having the parents truly is the best way in the journey of how to lose weight for kids.
Experts point to many reasons leading to a rise in childhood obesity, like environmental factors, lifestyle preferences and cultural environments. And though obesity is generally thought to be the result of too many calories and fat, researchers are now pointing to the high amount of sugar in soda and juices, larger portion sizes, and a decrease in physical activity as contributing factors to obesity.
How is obesity in children measured anyway? Currently, body mass index, or BMI chart, is used to decide if a child is overweight or obese. Children with BMIs at or higher than the 85th percentile but below the 95th percentile are considered overweight; BMIs at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese.
Any weight ranging from the 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile is considered a normal or healthy weight. BMIs are stacked against youth of the same age and sex, since a child’s body composition changes quite a bit as he or she ages. (3)
While using BMI might have some accuracy issues, the number of children who aren’t at a healthy weight is concerning. What’s especially interesting about overweight and obese children is that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Though there have always been children who weigh more than their peers, it’s only in the last four decades or so that rates have skyrocketed in young people.
Between 1976 and 1980, for example, 5 percent of preschool children ages 2–5 were obese. By 2007–2008, that number of obese children totaled 10.4 percent. And from 1976–1980, about 6.5 percent of children aged 6-11 were obese. In 2007–2008 however, that number shot up to 19.6 percent. (4)
The ramifications of children being overweight and obese aren’t just high numbers on the scale, of course. Both conditions bring about serious health consequences. These children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, which we know is a risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases. In fact, type 2 diabetes, which used to be virtually unheard of in children, is now being diagnosed at alarming rates. (5, 6)
Children who are obese also are more likely to have high blood pressureand cholesterol, breathing problems like asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease, and heartburn. (7)
And then, of course, there are the effects that transcend the physical. Depression and a feeling of low quality of life are more common in young people who are obese. (8) And children who are obese are more likely to be bullied more than their average-weight peers, no matter how good their social skills are. (9)
It’s evident that helping children who are overweight and obese is a healthy decision, and the new study sheds some light on an effective way to do that. The question researchers wanted to answer was whether there was a difference in how successful children were losing weight when they attended family-based weight loss treatment (FBT) versus having just parent-based treatment, or PBT.
Over the course of six months, 150 overweight or obese children ages 8–12 and their parents participated in the study. Throughout six months, FBT and PBT sessions were provided in 20 one-hour group meetings and 30-minute behavioral coaching sessions. The content delivered at both sessions was the same except that, at some, the children weren’t present.
The main measure to see whether children’s presence made a difference was by measuring their weight loss at different intervals after treatment. The study also looked at other measures, such as if parents also lost weight, whether children and parents engaged in more physical activity, and if parents changed the way they fed the children.
After evaluating the families for more than two years, it became clear that children weren’t necessary at meetings and still lost weight if only parents attended. Secondary outcomes, like parent weight loss and physical activity, didn’t suffer if children weren’t present either. It seems a bit odd — wouldn’t it make sense that kids would lose more weight if they were present at the treatment meetings than if they skipped them?
This study drives home the fact that, when it comes to children’s health, parents are the driving force behind it. A young child isn’t preparing his or her own meals and reading food labels, but parents are (or should be!).
So it makes sense that when the parents were educated on weight loss methods, the children still reaped the benefits, whether they were there to hear from the experts or not. When parents put the healthy tips into practice, the children lost weight — and so did the parents. Thus, if you’re wondering how to lose weight for kids, it begins with the parents.
Parents are the No. 1 tool against children being overweight or obese. But what can you do to ensure your kids are getting the nutrition they need without scarring them for life in the process? Here are 10 ways to help your family — because this is a family affair! — lose weight. Follow these 10 tips for how to lose weight for kids.
1. Choose a Food Lifestyle that Works
Food, not exercise, is key for weight loss. Certain diets can help lose weight and establish healthy eating patterns. Of course, when I say diet, I just mean the type of food and not a crazy “eat three seeds a day” diet. That’s because we want to stress to kids that eating for health isn’t just something you do to lose pounds on a scale or to look a certain way. It’s all about fueling our bodies and giving them the nourishment they need to perform their best, not jumping on fad diets for short-term gains.
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, veggies, healthy fats like olive oil, fish and whole grains can be a great place to start. Kids are generally familiar with most of these foods, but here they take center stage. The Mediterranean diet also helps guard our bodies against heart disease and other obesity-related health issues like type-2 diabetes and metabolic complications.
If gluten is an issue with your child, following a gluten-free diet could be the answer. An added bonus of reducing or eliminating gluten in your diet is that it automatically kicks a lot of unhealthy foods to the curb, such as refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, white and whole-grain flours, rice, and more.
However, as people shun gluten more and more, there are gluten-free “junk foods” cropping up. If you fear that you’ll just be replacing one unhealthy food with another, Paleo might be a good option. A Paleo diet focuses on proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil, while avoiding grains, dairy, refined sugars and legumes. While it can feel restrictive in the beginning, a lot of the guesswork about “can I eat this?” is taken out.
2. Say Goodbye to Processed Foods and Added Sugars
Most likely, however, your entire family will see health benefits as soon as you cut out — or at least cut back — on processed foods and extra sugar. You should immediately get rid of refined carbohydrates, as these are empty calories with zero nutritional value.
Next, it’s time to start cutting out those snacks you thought were healthy. Those “low-fat” cookies? They’re full of sugar and other weird ingredients to give them flavor. Flavored yogurts? These are packed with sugar, often more than an actual dessert. Fruit juices? Unless they’re 100 percent juice, they often have additional nasties added in. Premade salad dressings? The ingredients list on some of those is ridiculously long!
Your best bet is to make your own healthy treats. That way, you’re in control of what’s going into your child’s body.
3. Cook at Home
This can be a real challenge for busy families. Between work, school, homework, activities and plain old life, it can feel like there’s just no time to cook. But this is one of the most important things you can do to help your child lose weight. A home-cooked meal means children eat something nutritious with the appropriate serving size.
Kitchen hacking can help. On the weekend, you can make a few meals at once and serve those throughout the week. Think chili or soup in a crockpot, a roasted chicken in the oven, and a curry on the stove. The soup and curry can be served throughout the week, while the chicken can be added to a salad, used in lettuce wraps or served alongside oven-baked potatoes.
Breakfast for dinner is always a hit, too! Oatmeal sweetened with honey and fresh fruit makes a nice dinner, as do pumpkin blueberry pancakes or eggs scrambled with veggies and served with a slice of whole-wheat toast.
4. Get Moving
If your child enjoys sports, signing him or her up to play after school is an easy way to get your kid moving. Even better, getting active with them is a great way to encourage physical activity and spend more time together. You can go on walks together, go for a jog, do YouTube yoga practices or hit the local pool. They’ll see that being active doesn’t just mean gym class or boring “exercises.”
5. Let Kids Stop Eating When They’re Full
Many of us grew up in a time when we were forced to finish off everything on our plates, whether we were still hungry or not. But even babies turn away from milk when they’ve had enough. Similarly, if your child says he or she is not too hungry or fills up before finishing everything, don’t force him or her to eat more.
6. Get Kids in the Kitchen
Kids are a lot more likely to eat something if they had a hand in making it. Make the kitchen a family-friendly zone. Let your kids wash or chop veggies or do basic cooking tasks like sautéing onions or boiling water. Let them have their say in what recipes the family should eat during the week, and then have them help out. If you need some ideas on what to make together, these healthy snacks for kids should help.
7. Serve New Foods Several Times
It takes quite a few tries for our palates to adapt to new foods. So when you’re introducing a new ingredient, like kale or quinoa, don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t like it immediately. Make the new food a part of, not the basis of, the entire meal, and let your child try it out. If he or she doesn’t like it, don’t force him or her to eat it, but continue serving it. Eventually, your kid just might come around.
8. Don’t Demonize Foods
You’re not going to be able to control every single thing your kid eats. There will be visits to friends’ houses, birthday parties and after-school events, especially as they get older. It’s important not to make any food group out to be the worst thing ever. You don’t want children feeling guilty or like they failed if they have a cookie on occasion. Instead, focus on having them notice how they feel after they eat certain foods and understanding that some foods are for special occasions or eaten sparingly.
9. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes
Until they’re at least teenagers, children should be given “kid-sized” portions. Healthy Children has easy-to-follow recommendations on how much of each food group children should be served. Of course, children’s needs will vary based on their activity, sex, etc. Start by serving a smaller portion. If kids are still hungry, they can get a second serving, rather than starting with two servings worth of food.
10. Make It a Family Affair
There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a child eat one meal while everyone else eats something different. So make losing weight and healthy eating something the entire family is doing for everyone’s well-being. Keep tempting foods out of the house. Load the fridge with washed, cut-up pieces of fruit and veggies. Make healthy eating a normal household occurrence, and kids will follow suit!
Before starting any weight loss plan for your child, you should consult with a pediatrician. You’ll want to eliminate any health reasons for weight gain and food allergies. A doctor can also help you determine how much weight your child should lose so that he or she is at a healthy weight for his or her age, height and sex, and how much your child should safely lose each week.
If you feel you might need some extra assistance, your doctor can also put you in touch with a dietician who can help plan the right diet for your child and family.
Weight is a really tricky issue, and it can also be difficult to encourage weight loss without seeming judgmental. If you have weight and body issues of your own, it’s also tough to not pass on those hang-ups to your child. In that case, seeking professional help for yourself can be beneficial for everyone.