Talking about how much we weigh is a touchy subject. But chatting specifically about how much children weigh and what should be done about it is even more of a sensitive topic. We know that helping kids develop healthy eating and lifestyle habits as early as possible is positive and helps youth grow up strong and healthy. But to what extent do we address things like weight loss and diets for kids, and what type of food focus should there be?
There are many different parameters dietitians and other healthcare providers use to assess adult and children health status or risk for health problems. This can include blood markers like cholesterol, biometrics like blood pressure, lifestyle habits like physical activity, or numbers like body weight.
Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics report that 18.4% of 6-11 year olds and 20.6% of 12-19 year olds are obese. How much we weigh at any age can directly predict risk for chronic disease. Therefore, a method of early prevention in warding off future health issues could be taking control of excess body weight.
Do diets for kids work?
The message gets a little lost though when the emphasis for a child is that they should “diet” rather than “make good food choices.” In a society that unfortunately often turns first to weight-loss aids, fad diets or disordered eating patterns to address overweight and obesity, these tactics could inappropriately also be conveyed to children, and it doesn’t lead to good results. (Don’t worry, parents can lose weight without harming their children.)
In fact, a recent study published in Pediatrics (Berge et al., 2018) found that when parents urged adolescents to diet, it was significantly associated with a higher risk of overweight or obesity, binge eating, unhealthy weight control behaviors and lower body satisfaction in these adolescents into adulthood 15 years later.
Encouraging positive habits
A shift from weight-centric advice to encouragement of health-conscious habits like physical activity and healthy eating resonates well with children and young adults. Children are also more receptive to adopting healthy behaviors when parents are the key agents of change. This is important for many reasons, but especially because the benefits of exercise for kids are plentiful.
A meta-analysis in Childhood Obesity (Berge et al., 2011) found that 35% of studies showed significant child weight loss at 6-months, 1-year, and 2-years after following a family-based intervention approach to weight loss. Apply this wisdom by creating a health-positive atmosphere through open conversations about health, cooking wholesome meals together in the kitchen, taking a walk as a family and developing fun activities for family fitness, or grocery shopping side-by-side at your nearest Kroger.
Healthy food options for the family
Here are some easy food ideas (centered around fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains) to get parents and kids teaming up to eat well in efforts to prevent childhood weight gain. Parents do the slicing and dicing while kids get to add food in any combination they want!
- Tacos: whole-grain tortillas + canned black beans + pico de gallo + shredded lettuce + low-fat or dairy-free sour cream + low-fat or dairy-free cheese shreds + guacamole + dried cilantro
- Pizza: whole wheat premade pizza crust + pizza sauce + low-fat or dairy-free cheese shreds + meatless crumbles + mushrooms + pico de gallo + dried basil
- Trail Mix: toasted oats cereal + raisins + mini chocolate chips + peanuts + almonds + cashews
- Smoothie: frozen fruit (any!) + low-fat or dairy-free milk + water (to desired thickness)
- Veggie Kebabs: mushrooms + onions + bell peppers + squash + tomatoes