According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 13
percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were overweight in 1999. That
same year, 14 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 were
overweight. Many of these children were not only overweight, but actually
obese. Obesity is a growing epidemic, and unfortunately children are not
immune. In order to avoid the negative physical and emotional consequences that
obesity can cause, parents, teachers, and other caregivers must learn how to
prevent and treat childhood obesity.
The Medical Problems of Obesity
Obesity can result in a plethora of health problems, including high
cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Although these health
problems are normally thought to only affect adults, children are susceptible.
In recent years, the number of children who suffer from type 2 diabetes has
increased substantially, and obesity is the cause. The health problems that
children develop can affect them for the rest of their lives. Even if
overweight children do not develop health problems in their youth, they are likely
to suffer from obesity and related illnesses as adults. The United States
Department of Health and Human Services has determined that overweight
adolescents have a 70 percent chance of suffering from weight problems as
The Emotional Problems of Obesity
In addition to the serious health consequences, childhood weight problems
can also lead to severe emotional problems. Teasing and bullying are
unfortunately common aspects of childhood, and overweight children are
especially susceptible. Although some people consider such harassment a normal
part of being a kid, the effects can be devastating.
After being mercilessly teased, some children will go to dangerous lengths
to lose weight; some will develop anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Other
children begin binge eating, causing them to gain even more weight and increase
the emotional and physical problems they were already experiencing.
How to Prevent Childhood Obesity
As a parent, teacher, or other caregiver, you should make a conscious effort
to prevent childhood obesity. In a world filled with fast food restaurants and
soda, this is not always easy. You must provide children with healthy eating
choices. Additionally, encourage children to actually want to eat healthy.
If describe junk food as a treat and health food as necessary, children will
believe that eating healthily is a chore or even a punishment. Make healthy
food the treat; serve children delicious fresh fruit, fresh whole grain bread,
and lean meats that they will enjoy. Junk food should be portrayed as inferior,
both in taste and nutrition. This should not be too hard to teach since junk
food really is inferior. The trick will be demonstrating that you yourself
actually prefer health food.
Avoid using food as a reward. This will cause children to eat when they are
happy, when they are sad, and eat when they are not at all hungry; this
behavior will continue into adulthood. Food is not a reward, and children
should be taught to eat only in response to hunger.
Actually, children are naturally very good about eating only when they are
hungry; usually, they begin to lose this ability only because adults teach them
to always finish their plate and eat special treats whether or not they are
already full. Never force children to eat more than they want.
In order to maintain a healthy weight, children also need to exercise. The
type of exercise does not matter. Children can ride bikes, skate board, play
dance games at the local arcade, play basketball, or do anything else that
appeals to them. If your child is not very physically active, you should enroll
him or her in a sports organization or class. Even children who are normally
quite active will benefit from more structured activities, which will allow
them to increase their physical abilities while developing discipline. If your
child is more academically minded, remind him or her that high school sports
look great on college applications.
Remember that you are a role model. If you are telling children to eat
healthy and exercise regularly while you yourself do neither of these things,
you advice will probably not be followed. So eat well, enjoy eating well, and
How to Treat Childhood Obesity
If your child has a weight problem, you need to implement the above advice
immediately. You should also consult a doctor or nutritionist to develop a
healthy eating plan and make sure that no serious health problems have
developed. Do not delay action in the hopes that the problem will just go away;
in all likelihood, it will only get worse.
As stated, overweight children are likely to suffer from a variety of
emotional problems. You need to be careful not to lower their self-esteem
further. Do not insult them or criticize them about their weight. Never call
them names; they get enough of that at school. Most overweight children are
aware of their problem and already want to shed some excess pounds. You just
need to help them by developing healthy eating and exercise habits.
You should also try to avoid making this into a weight issue. Children are
under enough pressure from the media and their peers to look a certain way. If
you encourage them to focus on their weight, their self-esteem will suffer even
more and they will be more likely to develop an eating disorder. Instead, focus
on health and quality of living. Show them how maintaining a healthy weight
will lead to extra energy and fewer health problems. And make sure that they
know they are loved no matter what.