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Helping Our Kids Battle the Bulge

by Dan Brennan, MD

By now you have heard that one in every four children in the United States is overweight.

Boy_on_Bike_LR.jpgUnfortunately, overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and develop adult problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Despite our “healthy” Southern California lifestyles, we must actively work together to reverse this trend. Prevention starts from day one

Prevention of childhood obesity starts in the early years by avoiding food as a reward, minimizing television, modeling good eating habits and spending time outside. Our kids should be active, learn to enjoy healthy foods and strive for a positive self-image from the beginning.

Is there a treatment that works?

Unfortunately, the outcomes of obesity treatment in children have been discouraging. Dieting alone, weight-loss pills and supplements do not work. The good news is that most children do not need to lose weight.

How does this work?

Slowing the rate of weight gain will allow most children to “grow into” their weight. Setting realistic, short-term goals, such as maintaining weight is more likely to be sustainable and effective in the long run.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Make family changes. Instead of targeting one sibling, consider family-wide lifestyle modifications. The whole family will benefit from healthier food choices and more exercise. Set aside family time to go for a walk, take a bike ride or go to the playground.
  • Set reasonable nutritional goals. It is more realistic to reduce junk food intake rather than eliminate it completely. Nutritionists recommend that we increase our fruit and vegetable intake, drink more water and learn to read food labels. By cutting back on fast food, sodas and juices, we can reduce our caloric intake and our chances of developing diabetes and heart disease.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Instead of skipping meals, encourage your kids to eat three healthy meals a day plus several protein snacks. Take the time to pack a school lunch and be sure to cut up fresh fruits and veggies for afternoon snacks. If it’s already washed, peeled and on the table, kids will be more likely to eat it.
  • Hide the remote. How often do you find yourself getting up during commercials to grab another snack? Studies have shown that we consume more food when we eat in front of the television. Encourage your kids to go outside and play instead of being glued to the television, tablet or gaming system. Most kids do not get enough exercise at school, so be sure to sign them up for after school activities.
  • Eat more meals together. By sitting down to enjoy a meal with the family, you will generally eat less food and have the benefit of enjoying quality time together.
  • Consider eating off of smaller plates and serving smaller portions of food. Leave the serving dishes on the counter and wait a few minutes before getting up to have seconds.

The recipe for success - With common sense and moderation we can defeat the epidemic of childhood obesity.

The recipe is simple - Start with small and sustainable changes. Consume less junk food, juice and soda, reduce the time spent in front of the television and be sure to get outside and enjoy our beautiful paradise!

Dr. Dan Brennan is a board-certified pediatrician at 51 Hitchcock Way in Santa Barbara. Dr. Brennan earned his Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA and his medical degree from Albany Medical College. He completed his pediatric internship and residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Brennan is an accomplished healthcare columnist, public speaker, and contributing writer for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website


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