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Teenage Obesity

How to help your children lose weight

There is no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss for kids. The best approach is a general approach which incorporates the following:

  • Encourage your kids to make changes to their general lifestyle

  • Encourage them to become more physically active

  • Make it easy for them to eat healthily

  • Set a good example for them, yourself

Encourage your kids to make changes to their general lifestyle

Less television

Several studies have found a strong link between obesity and time spent watching TV. This isn’t surprising.

  • We burn fewer calories watching TV than we do sitting still.

  • TV commercials urge viewers to eat.
    The average American child sees 10,000 TV commercials a year. Approx 9,500 of these are for one of four types of food: fast foods, soft drinks, sugar-coated cereals and candy.

  • Too much TV is bound to prevent kids from developing the skills and love of sports that make physical activity so enjoyable.

  • Playing computer games may be worse than simply watching TV. Not only can they become addictive, but they can be played all day and all night.

Less television for parents too

We parents rely on TV to amuse our kids. Then we get upset when our kids get fat.
The moral? We have to take a greater interest in our kids and their activities. This doesn’t mean we have to entertain our kids from morning till night. But we have to get ‘involved’.

  • We should encourage our older kids to read, do something creative or participate in school or community sports and activities.

  • We should set aside more time to play with our younger kids.

  • We should set an example by talking to our kids about different things, in the hope that we can interest and inspire them to undertake new activities and projects.

Encourage your kids to become more physically active Suggestions:

  • Be active yourself! Share your activity with your kids.

  • Play with them! Play football, go cycling, go skating, go swimming.

  • Be more active as a family. Take family walks and hikes, and so on.

  • Help your kids to find activities that they enjoy by showing them different possibilities.

  • A good trick to encourage them to take exercise is to ask them to help you to get fit. Ask them to go for a walk with you, or a swim, or a cycle.

Make it easy for them to eat healthily

Be subtle. Even if your kids are fat don’t make a fuss about it. You’ll only make things worse. The key is to make it easy (and enjoyable) for them to eat properly. You can’t force them.

Basic approach

  • Be positive about making changes.

  • Be encouraging rather than dogmatic.

  • If there are other kids in the family whose weight is normal, don’t make an issue of the overweight child having to ‘go on a diet’, while the other kids carry on eating as ‘normal’.

  • Introduce changes on a ‘healthy eating’ pretext for all the family rather than a ‘diet’ for the overweight child.

  • Let them know that they’re great as they are, and that losing weight is something they can do to improve their life, not something to make other people approve of them.

  • Talk about the benefits they will get from changing their eating habits. Explain it will make things even better for them: e.g. more energy, more confidence, more friends, more clothes and so on.

  • Talk to them about the changes that they could make. Get them to agree. Don’t impose anything.

15 Practical suggestions

  • Provide a range of healthy snacks that the teenager can grab for themselves – a variety of whole wheat cereals, different breads, fresh fruit, fat free yogurt etc.

  • If they really love junk food, cook your own at home rather than allowing them takeouts. Use lean steak to make burgers, serve on a whole wheat bun with lots of salad. Make your own oven chips by cutting potatoes into thick chips, spray with light cooking spray and cook in a hot oven.

  • If they eat at school, find out what choices are available and talk to them about the best choices to make. Don’t insist they take a packed lunch if this makes them uncomfortable. Remember what it was like at school – kids like to be the same, they don’t want to stand out.

  • Fast foods need not be fattening – buy a pizza base and put your own low fat toppings.

  • Mix some fat free milk with whole milk and keep it in a jug.

  • Make your own popcorn using half the normal amount of oil.

  • If you know your child loves a particular dish which is high in fat, don’t cut it out completely. Include it in his/her diet every couple of weeks.

  • Make a healthy fizzy drink by mixing one-third fruit juice with two-thirds fizzy water.

  • Get a set of ice-pop moulds, fill them with fruit juice and freeze for a delicious cool ice.

  • Encourage them to use the blender to make their own shakes. Use any soft fruit, banana, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, blend with fat-free milk and top with a scoop of low-fat ice-cream.

  • For a more sophisticated snack, mix dried fruits with seeds – use sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.

  • If you see your child eating something fattening, don’t make a fuss and don’t expect them to be perfect. The occasional bad food isn’t going to stop them losing weight. Remember the most important thing is to teach them long-term, good eating habits.

  • Don’t compare your child in a critical way with anyone else. I’m sure we all remember hearing about so-and-so being so good at everything, or so cleaver, or so good looking. Kids pick up on these things and what they hear is “why aren’t you more like so-and-so?”

  • Constantly talking about weight/dieting, your own or your child’s, can be damaging. There are many cases of eating disorders in teenage girls who have grown up in a household where the mother is an obsessive dieter.

  • Ideally, introduce good eating habits to your child as early as possible, but remember it is never too late to start. The wonderful thing about kids is that they adapt to new ideas very quickly.

Set a good example for your kids

Most kids learn by example. They watch and they copy. So one of the most important things you can do to prevent obesity in your kids, is to set a good personal example.

  • Take regular exercise.

  • Don’t sit in front of a TV all day.

  • Find out about nutrition.

  • Buy lots of healthy food.

  • Cook healthy meals.

  • Explain to your kids what makes foods healthy and unhealthy.

See also Obesity and Eating Disorders in Teens & Pre-Teens

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