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Avoid raising an overweight child

February 2007
Avoid raising an overweight child

Asian Indian parents aren't the only ones who should be concerned about their expanding waistlines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The most recent data indicate that in the United States about 16% of children ages 6–19 years are overweight. Since the 1970s, overweight has doubled among young children aged 2–5 years and tripled among school-aged children aged 6–19 years." At least one in five children is overweight and these numbers continue to grow. Asian Indian children as we look around in our community are sadly a part of these statistics, as many, like their parents, are not getting the proper nutrition or enough exercise.

Playing video games, watching television, sitting in front of the computer along with consuming an unhealthy diet are all causes of being overweight. Being an overweight child poses many risks. Overweight children are more likely to become obese as adults and are also at an increased risk of complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, breathing problems, depression, and low self-esteem. Once a child is overweight it also becomes challenging to reduce weight.

Take these measures now to avoid your child becoming overweight:

Incorporate physical activity: Scheduling an activity time daily which can include doing jumping jacks, squats, playing ball outside, etc., can keep kids active. Have a jump rope handy and encourage several five minute "jump sessions" throughout their day. Playing "catch" in the back yard is a great way to get the family together and burn some calories. Enrolling your child in a structured program such as soccer, basketball, or karate, requires them to be physically active a few times a week. Put on some dance music and have a dance competition in the living room. Get children to run up and down the steps several times a day. Allow TV and computer time only after the physical activity has been completed.

Healthy snacks and nutrition for children: Fried Indian snacks such as chevda, sev, pooris, and other variety of bagged snacks should not be encouraged as they are of no nutritional value and high in calories and fat. Popcorn (without butter), fat free cheese, fat free yogurt, veggie sticks, whole wheat pita bread, and hummus are all good alternatives. Avoid sodas and fruit juices but encourage eating fruits for snacks. Lassi made from low fat or fat free yogurt is a good drink and snack item for children. Try blending in some strawberries, a banana, and a handful of granola cereal to make a lassi smoothie. Instead of ordering pizza, allow children to make their own at home with a whole wheat crust, low fat cheese, and their choice of vegetable topping. Children can pretend to put on a "cooking show" for fun while making their pizza. Pick three colors of the day and have your child decide which "colored" fruit/vegetable they want to eat for that day (depending on the color picked) to incorporate a variety in their diet.

Encourage eating breakfast every morning. Help your child decide what he/she would like to eat for breakfast the night before, and have it available the next morning. Stock the refrigerator/pantry with healthy foods only. Avoid buying boxed and frozen snacks. Take your children to the grocery store with you and allow them to choose their healthy snacks. Give children only a set amount to eat and do not force them to clear their plates by telling them other children are starving in the world (as this only teaches them to overeat), but rather encourage them to take limited portions and to stop eating once they are full.

Instead of forcing a vegetable on them, give them choices such as picking a vegetable from broccoli, green beans, spinach, or cabbage and then prepare their choice of vegetable. Involve your child in planning the daily menu. This makes them feel that they have some say-so in what they are eating instead of being force fed! Don't use food as a source of reward or punishment and don't place your child on a diet. Remember to be consistent every day, and above all, practice what you preach, as most overweight children are the product of overweight parents!

Gulshan Harjee, M.D., serves as the columnist for Health Watch. A board certified internist in private practice, her interests lie in preventive medicine. Questions for the column can be sent to

Co-columnist Aarti Patel has a B.Sc. in Health Information Administration and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a lifestyle and weight management consultant and a personal and group fitness instructor. She welcomes questions at

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