Treatments for Childhood Obesity
Treatments for childhood obesity generally fall into three categories: improved diet, increased activity, and sometimes medical action (including medication and/or weight-loss surgery). Because children are highly adaptable and usually very capable of making dietary changes and increasing physical activity levels without health hindrances, medical actions are usually reserved for extraordinary situations.
The majority of children can achieve healthy, long-term weight loss by simply changing a few daily habits and getting involved in more physical activities. Because children are still growing and naturally put on weight to correspond to their growth, many young children (under the age of 7) who have no other pressing health concerns are advised to try and maintain their weight, instead of losing any weight. The idea is that as their bodies grow, their weight will return to a healthy proportion of their body size.
Dietary changes that will help address child and teen obesity are simple, but they must be facilitated by parents. Because parents are the ones who purchase food at the supermarket and prepare or purchase meals, they are the ones making the important dietary choices. Some simple changes that improve a child's chances of maintaining a healthy weight include:
- Choosing snack foods that are fresh and unprocessed, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Unhealthy snack foods include processed, high-fat, high-sodium, or high-sugar foods, such as candy, chips, processed cheese and meat products, or bread products that are made with refined white flour.
- Encouraging children to drink more water, and limiting the consumption of sweetened beverages of any kind including fruit juice. Although fruit juices have more nutritional value than soda, they are still high in sugar. Drinking plain water can have an energizing effect on the body, and kids can get more nutrition and less sugar from eating whole fruit.
- Discouraging eating while distracted and/or "on the go" including while watching television, in the car, or playing video games. Studies show that children and adults who sit down to eat as a family, without distractions like television, get more satisfaction from the food they eat and are less likely to overeat.
- Limiting how often the family eats fast food - even "healthy" options on fast food menus are often high in fat, sugar, sodium, and calories.
To encourage children to spend time being physically active, parents should limit the amount of time the kids are allowed to spend in front of the television and computer. Another great way to keep kids active is for parents to be active themselves. To keep kids interested, find activities that children like, and vary them.
Medical actions to help children and teens lose weight are usually reserved for extraordinary situations. Although medications are available by prescription to children over the age of 12, the long-term effects of these medications are still unknown and their efficacy has not been proven. Because of this, most experts advise parents to avoid weight loss medications for their children, outside of extreme health concerns. Weight-loss surgeries carry serious risks, and should only be considered when a child or teen's weight problem poses a serious health risk. Weight-loss surgery also does not replace the need to teach kids about making healthy eating and lifestyle choices.
In many cases, one of the best ways to learn and set into motion healthy eating and exercise habits is through weight loss camp, where young people enjoy being kids while learning new coping skills and dietary information.