Weight Loss Programs for Kids
If you want to help your child lose weight, the best approach varies a bit depending on her age. Here are some specific tips for parents of overweight kids ranging from age 5 to 12.
Remember to schedule annual well child visits with your child’s pediatrician. At those visits, the pediatrician will track your child’s growth, both weight and height, and make suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.
Tips for Parents of Overweight Kids, Age 5 to 6
Goal: Weight maintenance
For most overweight children aged 5 to 6, the goal is to help your child maintain his weight for a while, not necessarily achieve weight loss. In most cases, if you can keep your child’s weight steady, he will grow into it.
What to Do: Own your child’s menu
Helping your child maintain his weight will require effort and lifestyle changes on your part and his. For instance, you may decide to cut back or eliminate certain types of foods — especially beverages with sugar in them (such as sodas and juice drinks) and fast food — and processed, high-calorie snacks (such as packaged baked goods and chips).
As a parent, you have control. If you start cooking healthier meals at home — and visiting restaurants less often — your kids will naturally eat healthier, says Karen Donato, SM, coordinator of overweight and obesity research applications at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Another place to pay close attention is to what’s being served at school for lunch. If the choices don’t seem healthy, pack healthier options in your child’s lunch box.
Guidance: Be patient, but persistent.
These changes may not always be easy on your child. If your overweight child is refusing healthy foods, don’t demand that he eat them. Be patient, and just keep serving them. Studies show that kids need to be exposed to a new food several times before they might try it.
Tips for Parents of Overweight Kids, Age 7 to 9
Goal: Weight maintenance
For an overweight child aged 7 to 9, the goal is usually to help her maintain her weight, not necessarily achieve weight loss. In most cases, if you can keep your child’s weight steady for a while, she will grow into it.
What to Do: Take charge of food in the house.
Helping your child maintain her weight will require effort from both of you. As the parent, your first step is to take responsibility for stocking your home with only healthy foods.
At age 7 to 9, your overweight child now has more independence and might be helping herself to her own snacks at home. This means that if you don’t stock your pantry with unhealthy foods, she won’t have easy access to eat them, says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.
Of course, it can be hard to say no to your child if she begs or whines for an unhealthy treat at the store. But it’s important to stand firm. If you bring the food home, you’ll have to say “no” to requests for unhealthy foods over and over again — instead of just once at the store.
Your focus on the health and well-being of your family while grocery shopping can help prevent setting you and your child up for unnecessary daily tests, where failure can cause long-term health issues.
One fun thing about kids this age is that they are old enough to help out in the kitchen. Take advantage of it. Making a healthy meal with your kid is a great way to talk about a good diet and expose her to new foods, says Ann O. Scheimann, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.
Guidance: Make healthy eating the goal for the whole family.
Kids at this age are getting savvy. If your child feels like she’s being treated differently from the rest of the family because of her weight, she’s going to resist. It’s not enough to tell your overweight child to eat better or exercise; you have to do it, too. Parents who practice what they preach will likely gain a more successful outcome all along the way — for everyone.
Tips for Parents of Overweight Kids, Age 10 to 12
Goal: Weight maintenance, or sometimes a little weight loss
You should talk to your child’s doctor about the best approach for his particular situation. Your doctor will make a recommendation based on how overweight your child is, your family’s weight history, whether your child has health problems related to weight, and how much growing he still has to do. You shouldn’t put your child on a weight loss plan without a doctor’s approval.
What to Do: Provide your child with a specific plan.
Your overweight child may be mature enough to take an active role in making his lifestyle healthier. Encourage him. Your kid will need motivation to succeed. Help him come up with specific, attainable goals to keep him on track.
Having him track his steps on a pedometer, writing down his daily activity, and keeping a food diary maybe with your assistance can help get him involved. It will also be motivating as he sees exercise minutes adding up while getting to a healthier level of fitness and having more energy, too.
Your pediatrician may be able to recommend children’s weight management programs near you.
Some commercial weight loss programs will accept kids. Weight Watchers accepts kids aged 10 to 17 with written medical permission. TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) may allow kids. Always talk with your child’s doctor before putting him on any weight loss plan. Unhealthy weight loss diets could harm your child’s body and mind. Also make sure your child has developed the maturity to participate in such programs. Your child may benefit most from groups that are oriented to kids his age.
Immersion treatment when a child enrolls at a summer camp or school for overweight kids is another option for older kids. Search the Internet for “weight loss programs for kids.” And ask your pediatrician to recommend a program near you. But remember, if your child returns to an unhealthy home environment at the end of program, the pounds will come right back.
Guidance: Give your overweight child family support.
Being healthy is good for your whole family. The messages you send your child when you eat healthfully and make efforts to be active or you don’t are very powerful.
Ultimately, when your child grows up, it will be up to him to be completely and independently responsible for his lifestyle choices, but right now you are one of his most influential role models. If you struggle with staying healthy yourself, share your feelings, but stay persistent with pursuing your healthy goals and helping your child achieve his. Your efforts will help your overweight child now and for years to come.