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'My Child Is Not Fat!'

Extra weight puts kids at increased risk for serious health issues

BHM Edit Staff | 2/6/2014, 6 a.m.
Many parents in denial about their child's weight. depositphotos

About a third of the young people in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Black children, like their adult counterparts, have the highest obesity rates.) And about half of the parents of these children don’t think their kids are too heavy, says a new study.

Parental denial may put a bull’s eye on heavy children. Extra pounds put them at increased risk for chronic health problems, including asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, joint issues and sleep apnea.

“Parents who underestimate their kids’ weight may not take action to encourage healthy behaviors that would improve their child’s weight and reduce their risk of future health conditions,” says the study’s lead author Alyssa Lundahl, a graduate student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

For the study, researchers analyzed 69 studies involving almost 16,000 children, ages 2 to 18, and found:

  • 51 percent of parents with overweight or obese children thought their kids were a normal weight.
  • About 14 percent of parents with normal-weight kids believed their child were underweight.
  • Parents of kids ages 2 to 5 were most likely to underestimate the weight of heavy children.

So what’s “too heavy”? Children are considered overweight or obese based on where they fall on body mass index (BMI) growth charts: Those at the 85th to 95th percentile are overweight; those at or above the 95th percentile are obese.

To make sure your child maintains a healthy weight, pediatricians suggest these lifestyle changes:

  • Eat only at the kitchen or dining room table.
  • Make sure your children have a healthy breakfast.
  • Give children water instead of high-sugar sodas and juices. Serve meals with fat-free or skim milk.
  • Keep healthy snacks such as baby carrots, string cheese and grapes on hand.
  • Eat at fast-food restaurants three times (or less) each month.
  • Skip the candy, cookie and soda aisles at the grocery store.
  • Sign your children up for a physical activity—swimming or soccer, for instance. Encourage them to take the stairs whenever possible.