An overweight child often has more than excess pounds to bear - they're often taunted by peers and can suffer health problems, now and later.
MomsMiami met with Dr. Doria Aguilar, a Miami Lakes pediatrician with Palmetto General Hospital, to get some advice on how to keep our kids from getting fat. Overweight kids can experience body aches, joint pain and have a greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. They can also have emotional problems, including self-esteem issues, depression and anxiety about food, activities, or even going out in public.
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A child with a body mass index of over 25 is considered overweight, with over 40 being morbidly obese. The BMI, the percentage of fat in a body, calculated by height and weight. Click here for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BMI calculator for kids.
Aguilar's passion for the issue is fueled by her own experience as an overweight teenager. She has since lost about 100 pounds and has kept it off for five years.
Now, she works to educate kids -- and their parents -- about living a healthy lifestyle.
What causes obesity in children?
"A combination of the way we live our life and genetics. Poor nutrition from fast food and unhealthy snacks are one reason. Today, moms aren't home like they used to be, so they're buying more prepackaged food that is higher in fat, carbs and salt. Kids also are less active and more sedentary. Genetics also play a role. If the parents are obese, there is a greater chance for the kids to be.''
What should a parent do first if their child is overweight?
"The first thing is to approach it as a family issue, because we are stronger together than alone. Because there are so many negative things attached to being overweight, don't make the child feel like he has done something wrong. Start with positive messages: 'Let's become healthier. Le's help our body feel better.' ''
When should parents seek medical attention for an overweight child?
"From the start, to help put the problem in perspective, reinforce healthy living and monitor improvements.''
What are your diet recommendations for overweight children?
- Go back to the basic food groups.
- Restrict the use of oil, or switch to olive oil.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Add a little cheese to broccoli or honey to baby carrots to get your kids to try them.
- Don't cut out a food completely, because it will lead to more cravings. If you want dessert, share one among all of you.
- Look at what you eat the most of, and gradually cut back.
"You don't have to join a gym or pay a lot of fees. Get the family together and take a walk around the neighborhood. Shoot for two or three times a week, then gradually add more outings or more time. You'll have more energy, feel better, and your family will grow closer.''
How do you combat the video game factor?
"Limit game-playing time, and don't let kids eat unhealthy snacks while they play.''
How does your own experience with childhood obesity help you treat your patients?
"I weighed 220 when I was a teenager. I remember how people looked at me and treated me, and that helps me with the kids I treat because I know how they feel.''
What do you think of weight-loss medications for children?
"I encourage parents to stay away from this. It's expensive, there can be side effects and many of the medications are not FDA-regulated. I also think it's more successful to learn healthier habits than to go for a quick fix.''
What about weight-loss surgery for children?
"This may be helpful for a morbidly obese child with health problems who has not been able to lose weight in other ways. It is typically combined with instruction on how to live a healthier lifestyle.''
How can you prevent obesity if your child is at risk?
"Accept that it is a problem. Talk to them about changing their habits. Get the family on the same page, so that Grandma is not feeding them pie at her house.''
What kind of emotional support should I offer my overweight child?
"Set short- and long-term goals and reward them, not with food, but a trip to the park, a new outfit, CD, etc. And lead by example.''