All the things we normally say about obesity and fat loss being complicated are especially true with children. It’s even more difficult to establish a definition of what constitutes obesity, it’s even more important to avoid stigmatization, and sometimes all you need to do is wait for puberty and all the fat will disappear by itself. This means that finding ways to help is extra tricky.
There’s no doubt that there’s more fat, salt and sugar in a regular diet these days, to the point that it can damage health. Children also tend to do less exercise than they might have in the past due to changes in transport, technology and urban planning. These factors can easily lead to children becoming overweight, with all the associated health problems.
Children who are obese are more likely to grow into adults who are obese, which means a higher risk of heart problems, diabetes or even cancer (at least some types). They also may suffer mentally and emotionally, experiencing depression and anxiety over their weight. Weight is a popular subject for bullies.
Luckily, just as children who pick up bad eating and exercise habits when young are more likely to grow up unhealthy, if you manage to teach children some good habits early, they’ll be ingrained by the time they reach adulthood. This does mean that you, the adults in their lives, need to try to model the right behavior. They’ll learn it from you.
It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to help a child lose weight. They don’t need to do more than a skinny child because they’ll naturally burn through more energy and more fat. The key is to find something they enjoy. If they don’t like running, don’t make them run. Try cycling, climbing, swimming, martial arts, or dance. You could even just walk to school. Listen to them, and where possible, let them choose the activity.
Similarly, get them involved in choosing meals, along with preparation and cooking. Let them feel in control. You can decide how much salt and sugar to add. There are lots of different ways you can include extra fruit and vegetables in a diet, too.
The most important thing with an overweight child is making sure they know you still love them. Be reassuring and supportive, and let them know they’re not alone. You’ll be there however you can.