Parents in Action: Dealing with an overweight child

TAMPA - Over the last decade, the number of overweight or obese children has skyrocketed to unseen figures. It's estimated that the growing epidemic affects one out of three children in the United States. And because childhood obesity is a hot-button topic, many people prefer to spend their time pointing fingers as opposed to finding a solution. At the end of the day, parents with an overweight child are left with one big question to be answered: How can I help my child live a healthier life?

Since the majority of heart attacks occur well past middle age, a potential problem a half-century away may not be high on your list of worries when it comes to your child's health. However, it's well-established that heart disease begins to develop in childhood, says Dr. J. Blaine John, a pediatric and fetal cardiologist at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. Here are some steps Dr. John suggests to help your family fight the weight battle.

Get Physical

Where exercise is concerned, it need not be complicated. Playing outdoors, bicycling, swimming, organized sports and dancing are great exercise options and should be encouraged. For children 5 and older, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity activities every day and at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activities three to four days a week to maintain heart and lung fitness. Signing your children up for a sports camp or one that focuses on physical activity as a way to keep them moving during the summer. Getting your kids to do this will be much easier when you limit T.V. watching, computer use and play with handheld computer games.

Watch What You Eat

The AHA also has dietary guidelines for children ages 2 and older, with good reason. According to research published in its journal Circulation, children who consumed fruits and vegetables once a day had healthier arteries as adults than those who reported eating fruits and vegetables less than twice a month.

The AHA's recommendations include:
•    Keeping total fat to no more than 30 % of daily calories (10% of which is saturated fat)
•    Holding dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day
•    Using the "age + 5" guideline for calculating the appropriate amount of fiber. Using the formula, a 7-year-old should eat 12 grams of fiber (7 + 5 = 12).
•    Consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and other foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

NEVER use food as a reward for your children's accomplishments. For a full list of dietary recommendations, visit .

Support Your Kids

Losing weight is not easy for anyone, including your kids. They will need your support to help them get through the more difficult moments. When times get tough make sure they firstly understand that you love them unconditionally and you want them to lose weight for health reasons. You can also support your child by setting achievable goals. Once certain milestones are achieved, celebrate by going to the beach, on a walk or just playing out in the yard together. Although on the rise, obesity is a man-made problem that can be solved by man. With a little work and support your family can be on their way to happy, healthy lives.

St. Joseph's Children's Hospital

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