It is well known that obesity or being overweight is a growing epidemic among children, leading to increases in diabetes and other serious health effects.
It is also well known what you have to do to lose weight, by eating less and exercising more. The problem is that it is hard to stay motivated to do these things.
And if it is hard for adults, you can expect that it is even harder for kids, who don't necessarily understand the negative health effects of being overweight.
How do you help your children lose weight?
It can help to stick to the basics. Don't worry about counting calories and carbohydrates and fat grams. Instead, provide healthy meals and snacks and encourage regular physical activity.
Being a good role model is also important, starting when your kids are young. This can help the whole family to be healthy.
If your child is already overweight, you will likely have to make some changes to his diet. But this isn't as hard as you think. It doesn't have to involve counting every calorie that he eats and drinks, which can be especially hard when your kids are eating at school.
Instead, keep in mind that a pound is equal to about 3500 calories. So if your child is gaining an extra pound a week, he needs to cut his diet back by 3500 calories a week or 500 calories a day so that he doesn't gain any more weight.
Fortunately, most kids don't need to make such drastic changes to their diet. Your overweight teen is likely just gaining an extra 10-15 pounds a year, which would be equal to just 100 to 150 calories a day, about equal to a can of non-diet soda.
Stoping Weight Gain
An important first goal for most overweight kids is to simply stop gaining weight.
Using the method above, instead of counting all of your child's calories and trying to stay below some set goal, you can use the fact that he probably eats about the same number of calories each day to help him not gain any more weight.
So just figure out how much extra weight your child gained in the past year and adjust his diet to compensate for these extra calories. The change might be as simple as changing to non-fat milk, diet soda or a more healthy after school snack.
Keep in mind that this 'extra weight' is above what your child would be expected to normally gain each year.
Cutting back on the above number of calories each day should help your child to stop gaining weight. If your child is not very overweight and he hasn't finished puberty yet, then not gaining more extra weight might be not enough, as he gets taller and 'grows into' his weight.
Again, not gaining any more extra weight is an important first goal, but many overweight kids also need to lose some weight.
You can use the same calculations to figure out how much more to cut your child's daily calories by to lose weight. So, once your child is at a stable weight and not gaining, if you want to help your child lose 5 pounds a year, cut his diet back by 50 calories a day. To lose 10 pounds, eliminate 100 calories a day, and so on.
If your child is still gaining weight, then you will have to cut more calories out of his diet. For example, if he has been gaining an extra 5 pounds a year and he needs to lose 10 pounds, then that is a total of 15 pounds that you need to compensate for. So he will need to cut back his diet by 150 calories a day.
Although you don't need to count calories each and every day and know where every fat gram is coming from, you do need to understand your child's diet to help him lose weight.
Some good questions to answer include:
After you look closely at your child's diet for a few days or a week, you should be able to see patterns of where the extra calories come from. Cutting back on calories might be as easy as eliminating a bedtime snack, changing to diet drinks or low fat milk, or not super-sizing his portions.
More exercise and being more active is another good way to stop gaining and losing weight. Instead of thinking about how to diet to decrease the number of calories your child is taking in, you could also think about how much exercise he needs to do to burn those calories.
So just like we said that you had to cut back your diet by 50 calories a day to lose 5 pounds a year, you could also exercise to burn an extra 50 calories a day and lose weight.
Or even better, do a combination of both.
How can children burn 50 calories a day exercising?
Your children should be able to burn 50-100 calories a day in 30-60 minutes of regular activities that children enjoy, such as walking, roller blading, bicyling, or playing baseball, basketball or soccer.
Older Kids and Adults
Younger children who are overweight have one big advantage. Since they are still getting taller, if they stop gaining weight, they I said before, they will often 'grow into' their weight.
Once a teen finishes going through puberty, to get thinner, he actually has to lose weight. The same principles discussed above work though for both older teens and adults.
Eat less or exercise more or do some combination of both.
This is not meant to minimize the difficulty of losing weight though. If losing weight were easy, there wouldn't be so many different exercise programs and diets. The popularity of so many diets, such as the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, etc. and frequent advertising for 'easy' weight loss programs helps illustrate just how difficult losing weight is.
But these basic tips should give you a better understanding of what you need to try to do to help your child get to a more healthy weight. You can get more help from your pediatrician and/or a registered dietician.