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Diet for Obese Children and Teenagers

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Obesity in children and adolescents is the new and emerging public health problem. Over the last few decades the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled.

The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. The percentage of teenagers aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over these three decades as well. In the United States, nearly one third of the child population was affected by obesity or was overweight in 2010.

Some of the steps to curb obesity and overweight in children and adolescents include dietary changes.

Dietary changes

  • Inclusion of the whole family in adopting healthy food habits. Healthy habits start at home. If the whole family chooses to make a healthy diet plan, it is easier to curb and treat childhood obesity. And with the whole family involved, it will be much easier for the overweight or obese child to make lasting changes. This is also called leading by example. A child that sees his or her parents eating more fruits and vegetables, being active and limiting TV time, tends to do the same.
  • Teaching children healthy and unhealthy foods early in childhood.
  • Cooking healthy in front of the child and for the child. Giving a child an age-appropriate job in healthy preparation of foods also helps in inculcating healthy food habits.
  • Food choices that are healthy include eating the rainbow. This includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This should include:-
    • red (beets, tomatoes)
    • orange (carrots, squash)
    • yellow (potatoes, bananas)
    • green (lettuce, broccoli)
  • Ensuring a healthy and mandatory breakfast. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who skip the first meal of the day. A healthy breakfast could be oatmeal, fresh fruit, and a whole grain cereal with low fat milk.
  • Ensuring regular and timely meals to prevent snacking and overeating at meals.
  • Reducing fats in diet. Fats not from fish, nuts and vegetable oils need to be completely eliminated. Those from these sources also need to be regulated at optimum amounts.
  • Reducing eating out and avoiding junk food when eating out.
  • Sweets and snacks need not be banned entirely from diet. Having no sweets or food bans would make the child crave more and tend to overindulge when given the chance. Instead the amount of cookies, candies, and baked goods can be limited. Fruit based desserts and snacks may be offered as alternatives. Further snacks should not exceed 100 to 150 calories. They should not encroach on a meal.
  • Surgery drinks and sodas should be avoided completely. Instead a child can be offered sparkling water with a twist of lime or a splash of fruit juice.
  • Fruits may be offered whole, as frozen juice bars, fruit smoothies, added to yogurt or pureed in desserts.
  • Portion sizes should be controlled. Excess of anything could lead to weight gain. To control portions, smaller dishes should be used. To avoid second helpings, food could be dished out in plates and bowls in the kitchens. Smaller orders when eating out also helps reduce portion sizes.
  • Food labels need to be carefully read. These may give clues to calories, ingredients and portion sizes as well.
  • Regular workouts may be made enjoyable by doing it with the child. It does not have to be structured exercise. It could be a hike or a brisk walk in the park with the child or playing or dancing with the child. TV time and time before the computer and video games needs to be restricted to increase play time and activity time. Experts recommend that children should have no more than 2 hours of screen time a day. Eating before the TV should also be avoided.
  • Weight targets, crash diets and ridiculing the child about weight does not help the child lose weight. These should be avoided at all costs.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further reading

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2013

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