My Child Is Gaining Too Much Weight. What Can I Do?

Obesity in children is leading to health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Kids with obesity are also at high risk of developing low self-esteem and depression. Addressing these issues early promotes better health in adulthood.

Problems and Health Issues Related to Excess Weight Gain

Type 2 diabetes. This is a chronic problem resulting in elevated blood sugar, secondary to less-than-ideal response to insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar. Being less active physically and gaining excess weight are risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Elevated cholesterol. Poor diet leading to excess weight gain is a risk factor for elevated cholesterol. A family history of high cholesterol level also increases risk. High cholesterol levels can lead to thickening in the blood vessels called plaques, and ultimately heighten the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

[READ Foods to Help Lower Your Cholesterol.]

High blood pressure. This is also a problem related to obesity. Having high blood pressure for a long time increases the risk of plaque formation in the arteries, upping the odds of heart attack and strokes. It can also lead to kidney damage.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Obesity is associated with excess fat accumulation in the liver. This can lead to inflammation in the liver, scarring and liver failure.

Breathing issues. Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious health issue that leads to interrupted breathing during sleep and is more common in children with obesity. It can cause excess fatigue and sleepiness during the day, as well as an inability to focus at school.

Joint problems. Excess weight gain can place stress on the joints of the back, hips, knees and ankles, affecting mobility and leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. Rarely, kids who are obese may develop a problem with a hip joint that causes abnormalities to the top end of the femur bone, which requires surgery.

Emotional problems. Poor self-esteem is frequently observed in children with obesity. This can be compounded by a higher risk of bullying, and it places them at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Diagnosis of Obesity

It’s always best to seek help from your child’s physician if you’re concerned about weight gain. Your kid’s doctor may use the body mass index to help assess the level of weight gain. (A child with higher muscle mass and body frame may have a higher BMI, and the doctor will take that into account.)

Your child’s eating habits, activity level, other health problems, psychological issues and family history of weight issues will help provide insight and guide treatment plans. Doctors can also check sugar and cholesterol levels and monitor thyroid function.

[See: 8 Weird Ways Obesity Makes You Sick. ]

How Can Obesity in Children Be Managed?

It’s important to identify if your child may be at risk of developing obesity, and to then prevent excess weight gain. This starts with setting healthy eating habits as a family and encouraging physical activity.

— Children who are overweight and obese would be best served with the help of a multidisciplinary team that involves a pediatrician, registered dietitian, physical therapist and pediatric specialists, and sometimes a psychologist.

— A weight maintenance program can help the child grow and ease into normal BMI ranges.

— Children between 6 to 11 years of age may be placed on diet plan and physical activity schedule to encourage weight loss of no more than 1 pound per month.

— For older children, a weight loss goal of 2 pounds per week is typically reasonable.

— Support and commitment from the child’s family is required for helping with diet and encouraging physical activity.

— Creating healthy eating habits is also important, and this involves limiting high carbohydrates, like cookies and crackers, and limiting sweetened beverages such as soda or juice.

Weight-loss medications are hardly ever used in children. Weight-loss surgery is sometimes recommended for adolescent patients who have been unable to lose weight through lifestyle changes. The doctor might recommend this option if your child’s heath risk from obesity poses a bigger risk than the potential problems related to surgery.

[See: U.S. News’ 39 Best Diets Overall.]

It’s important that a child being evaluated for weight-loss surgery is seen by a team of providers with experience managing children with obesity. Obesity surgery may not always result in weight loss and requires a diet and physical activity commitment to yield an optimal outcome.

More from U.S. News

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The Best Diet for Your Personality

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