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Our Bodies: Overweight Children

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Dear Dr. Levister: My 5-year-old daughter is overweight. What can I do to help her?

Dear V.L. Childhood obesity is on the rise and it’s especially common among African American children. Higher cholesterol levels and an increased likelihood of adult obesity with all of its associated problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease are major concerns.

Our kids are far less active than we were. Many of the areas in and around our urban schools are crime infested and dangerous. As a result, outdoor physical education has been cut back or completely eliminated. Similar circumstances exist in our neighborhoods where gang violence, drugs and other crime related activity confines children to sedentary lifestyles, such as watching TV and playing computer games.

When it comes to eating, they, like many of us, consume more fat-laden fast foods because we as parents often find ourselves too busy and too tired after a stressful work day to prepare healthy, balanced meals each night.

Parents should visit a pediatrician with their children and discuss weight issues. While we as a race tend to be more accepting of large sizes, the standard weight chart is valid because it provides a wide range of acceptable weight based on height.

Retention of water, which we commonly blame, has nothing to do with weight.
If your doctor recommends that your child lose pounds, start a sensible plan to help her. As with adults, that means a healthy diet along with exercise. If neighborhood safety is an issue, plan family outings away. Select activities that stress physical exertion such as walking, swimming, hiking, skiing or even raking leaves.

Plan and prepare low fat meals up to a week in advance. If your child stays with a sitter during the day, discuss her meal requirements with the caretaker. Limit sweets. Play up the fact that they can have as much fruit and vegetables as they want. Be sure your child steers clear of the dieting pitfalls.

Girls more than boys are susceptible to abusive habits that can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. For more guidance on healthy eating, order a copy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines. (Send your name, address and 50 cents to the Consumer Information Center, Department 378-C, Pueblo, CO 81009).

Weight control is a billion-dollar paradox, for adults and kids alike. The key to keeping our kids fit, like weight control in adults, is sensible eating and exercise. There are no magic solutions.

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