Dr Philippe Jean Collin. — Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice
by Dr Philippe Jean Collin*
How do I know if my child is overweight?
Your child's doctor or nurse will tell you. They will measure your child's height and weight and use those measurements to calculate a number called the "body mass index" or "BMI."
The doctor or nurse will use your child's BMI to tell if their weight is healthy for their height. To do this, the doctor or nurse will compare your child's BMI to the BMIs of other children of the same age and sex. If your child's BMI is high compared to other children, they are overweight. When a child's BMI is much too high, the condition is sometimes called "obesity."
Why is it important for my child to have a healthy weight?
It's important to have a healthy weight, because children who are very overweight can have:
●Asthma – This is a lung condition that can make it hard to breathe.
●High blood pressure
●Knee or back pain
●Sleep apnea – This is a condition that makes people stop breathing for short periods during sleep.
It's also important that your child has a healthy weight so they are more likely to have a healthy weight later in life. Being overweight as a teen or adult can lead to medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes (high blood sugar), heart attacks, and some types of cancer.
What causes children to be overweight?
Children can be overweight for different reasons. Some children simply gain weight more easily than other children. These children can become overweight by eating too much, eating unhealthy foods, or not getting enough exercise. When children gain weight very easily, they have to work extra hard to have a healthy weight.
Although uncommon, some medicines and medical conditions can also make children gain weight more easily.
Will my child need tests if they are overweight?
Maybe. The doctor or nurse will talk with you and your child, and do an exam. They might do blood tests to check for:
●A condition that could be causing your child to gain weight easily
●Health problems that can happen when children are overweight
How can I help my child get to a healthy weight?
To help your child have a healthy weight, you need to help them eat healthy foods and be more active. Making these lifestyle changes can be hard, especially at first. These are some goals you can work toward to help your child be healthier:
●Have your child eat five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. Fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables count towards the goal, but fruit juice does not. A serving is usually one whole fruit (such as an apple or banana) or a half cup of vegetables. If you don't have fresh fruits and vegetables available, you can use frozen or canned ones instead.
If your child does not like vegetables or fruit, start slowly. Eat these foods yourself to set a good example, and have your child keep trying them.
●Limit your child's "screen time." Screen time includes watching TV, playing video games, or using a computer or other electronic device for things other than schoolwork. Experts recommend that young children (ages two to five) have no more than one hour a day of screen time. Older children should also limit screen time. Spending too much time watching TV or using electronics raises a person's risk of being overweight.
●Have your child do physical activity for one hour or more each day. This can include organised activities like sports or dance. But children can also get exercise just through play.
●Do not give your child any sugary drinks. Sugary drinks include soda, sports drinks, and all juices.
You and your child might not be able to meet all of these goals at first, but that's OK. Choose one or two goals to try first. Later on, you can try to meet all of these goals. — Family Medical Practice
*Dr Philippe Jean Collin is a French peadiatrician with Family Medical Practice Hanoi. He is a member of the French Society of Pediatrics, American Society of Nephrologists, and the Pediatric Academy Societies.
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