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Weight Loss Is Complex For Kids

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Don't worry, it's just "baby fat."

How often have you been told -- or hoped -- your children's heights would catch up to their weights?

Stop. In America, 13 percent of children and 14 percent of adolescents are overweight. That's at least double the rates two decades ago.

Experts blame unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle. They point to huge portion sizes, fast food, schools, marketing, television, video games, poverty and unsafe neighborhoods. Research also suggests a genetic link.

Children are less likely to shed pounds as they age, studies show, but more prone to Type II diabetes, back or joint pain, and sleep apnea. Long-term risks include heart disease and cancer.

"All these kids are going to grow up to be large adults," warns Dr. Neil Kaneshiro, a Woodinville pediatrician.

Parents should focus on building healthy habits for good nutrition and physical activity.

Slimming down is tough, especially complicated for children. Their bodies crave appropriate nutrients to develop.

Even if they're too heavy, young children need to gain a little weight every month, says Alicia Dixon Docter, a registered dietician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Here are some tips:

Check the Body Mass Index -- It's a useful tool to see if your child is too thin or fat.

Adults are generally healthy if their BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9, but it depends on age in children. An online calculator is available at

Assess kids emotionally -- Depression, low self-esteem and poor social interaction are potential problems for obese kids, says Kelly Schloredt, a psychologist at Children's.

If their weights suddenly spike, explore why -- stress, extra cash for unhealthy snacks? Consider whether you need help, such as parenting classes, to enforce good habits.

Baby steps -- Organized sports aren't a must. Urge them to walk more and take the stairs, not elevator.

Don't use food as a reward. Schedule time for and plan meals and snacks. Limit stuff like sugary drinks, salty snacks and fatty desserts, but don't forbid them if your child loves them.

"Restrictive diets will set them up to overeat," Dixon Docter says.

Involve the whole family -- Experts can't emphasize this enough. Don't expect your overweight child to abstain if you let your skinny one nosh away or if you limit screen time but watch too much TV yourself.

Offer wholesome choices; sit down for a meal of the same foods. "Our job as parents is to provide healthy foods and a pleasant environment," says Donna Johnson, a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Washington. Here are online resources:

Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Shape Up America!:

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