Has your child been diagnosed with something you thought only adults could get?
Turns out that’s not an uncommon occurrence, especially when a child is overweight, experts told the Chicago Tribune. In fact, children often suffer from fatty liver disease, hypertension and osteoporosis — as well as sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels — because they are overweight, experts said.
Part of this is because children don’t know how much food they should consume on a daily basis, the Tribune reported.
"Several studies have shown that obesity is under-recognized by parents as well as by physicians," Dr. Seema Kumar, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Chicago Tribune. "Parents in general tend to think they will outgrow it. … It also depends on the ethnic group they're coming from. In some cultures, being overweight is actually a sign of prosperity. So they may actually not even consider that as a problem."
Dr. James J Maciejko, director of the Adult and Pediatric Lipid Clinics at St. John Hospital in Detroit, told the Tribune that pre-pubescent children should consume around 2,000 calories a day.
After puberty, boys should stay in that range, whereas girls should drop to 1,500 to 1,600 calories a day to help ward off health risks, like heart disease, fatty liver and osteoporosis, the Tribune reported.
See more: Kindergarten obesity is a sign of future weight problems
As Emily Hales reported for us last summer, parents often don’t recognize that their children are overweight, which leads to increased eating because they feel as though their children are the right weight.
To turn this around, experts say it’s important for parents and children to work together to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle. Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News reported earlier in June about some parents who become their child’s personal trainer. Dallas mentions one parent, Heidi Bond, 41, who helped her daughter, Breanna Bond, lose weight with better food, increased exercise habits and some tough love.
"What it came down to was tough love," the elder Bond told Dallas. "Once I knew I had the right formula (of exercise and healthy eating), I hit it hard with everything I had."
Other parents can learn from that example, Dallas reported. Experts said that parents should try to encourage the entire family to eat well and keep a healthy lifestyle so that children have positive role models to follow.
"The most child-centered way (to approach weight loss) is to have the entire family adopt healthy eating habits," social worker Monique Prince told Deseret News National. "It has to be done with empathy for the child because we want to improve their self-confidence, not make them feel more discouraged.”
That diet can include healthier sources of protein and low-fat dairy products, Maciejko told the Tribune. He also said that parents should serve lean meats, eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables. Parents should also encourage water and skim milk over soda or other soft drinks, Maciejko said. And children shouldn’t eat too much pasta, potatoes or other starches.
"Of course, the key to avoiding unhealthy weight gain is moderation in the consumption of food," Maciejko told the Tribune, "even the healthiest food."
That’s easier said than done, though. Some children aren’t exactly in love with the idea of eating fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. But, as I wrote about in May of this year, recent research has found that when children have more control over their food — like when they grow their own produce — they are more likely to eat it. This is based on a study from Cornell University that surveyed how often children ate salads in school when they grew their own produce versus when the school grew the greens.
"When children are involved with growing and cooking food, it improves their diet," the study’s author, Debra Haire-Joshu, said, according to Science Daily. "Students at schools with gardens learn about math and science and they also eat more fruits and vegetables. Kids eat healthier and they know more about eating healthy. It's a winning and low-cost strategy to improve the nutrition of our children at a time when pediatric obesity is an epidemic problem."
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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.