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Dietitians Dish: Childhood obesity a touchy subject

By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
Jan. 15, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 14, 2013 at 7:15 p.m.

Talking to your kids about weight can be a touchy issue. Statistics now indicate that one out of three children in the United States is overweight or obese. A child is considered overweight if their body mass index is at the 85th to 95th percentile for their age. If they are over the 95th percentile, they are considered obese.

To determine if your child falls in either of these categories, you can contact your pediatrician or chart it yourself on the Centers for Disease Control growth charts. There are several things you can do if your child falls in these categories or if you are concerned that they are headed in that direction.

Take the team approach. The best thing you can do is to not individualize food or exercise to one child. The entire family should eat healthier and exercise. If extended family is close (such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), make sure they are on a united front with you.

Having family members telling kids that exercise isn't important or eating just a few cookies isn't going to hurt can send children mixed messages, which can derail all the hard work you are doing at home. Make sure your family understands the importance of the lifestyle changes you are making with your children.

Don't talk about what should be done - actually do it. Your pediatrician, dietitian or other health care professionals can give you advice, but you actually have to do it to make it work. Health care professionals have experience in helping people make changes, but unfortunately, we can't follow you home and make you do it ... as much as we wish we could sometimes.

Simple changes can add up. Don't consider it a diet, create a healthy plan. Turn off the television, get outside and do things as a family. Start off small with a bike ride or walk around the block. As you and your children get used to the exercise, you may find yourself going more and more blocks.

Take the emphasis off of the weight. Focus on the healthy lifestyle. Reward your children for choosing healthy food; don't criticize for making bad choices. Use phrases like, "Good job. That fruit is a healthy choice for a snack."

We are all human and make bad choices on occasion, but what matters is that we balance those bad choices with better ones. Also, encourage good exercising behavior. Say things like, "Wow, you can really run fast," or "You dance so well, I'm so happy to see you having fun."

An emphasis on weight and negative feelings about weight can cause children to develop eating disorders, such as binge eating or anorexia. Sometimes a goal with children will be to just not gain weight in hopes they will grow into their weight as they grow taller.

Get your child involved in something they enjoy that is active. There are several youth leagues in our area for a variety of sports and activities. Ask your child what they may be interested in and try it out.

Many places even have scholarships if a child cannot afford the activity without assistance. Finding an activity that is fun for your child is a great way to get exercise into their routine without it feeling like a chore. The bottom line is to make a healthy lifestyle easy and fun for the entire family.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the clinical nutrition manager/bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare Systems. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to



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