Experts on childhood obesity have found that obese children under 12 years have higher risk of getting diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and liver diseases. Because, today’s children tend to have higher weight, it may mean that the current generation will have a slightly lower life expectancy than previous generations.
More than fifteen percent of children and teens (between 6 and 19 years old) in United States tend to be overweight. The percentage has more than doubled since 1970’s. A child who can’t reduce their weight to a normal BMI (Body Mass Index) by 8 years old, have higher risk of becoming obese adults. It is important that children know they are obese or overweight.
For children, using body mass index (BMI) is still a good way to determine whether they are overweight. However, the problem is a lot more complex than with adults, because children are growing.
Your child is considered normal, if she is between 5th and 84th percentile. Children are considered overweight if their body mass index is between 85th and 94th percentile. And obesity is often defined with BMI equal to or higher than the 95th. You should also take into account age, gender, and height.
If your child is moderately overweight, eventually she may get a normal body weight during adolescence, because she gets taller. But in some cases she won’t and it means there should be some changes in her lifestyle. You need to check her weight periodically to see whether she gains weight too much. This information may help you determine what step you should do. If your child is overweight now, you shouldn’t wait, start to encourage appropriate changes in lifestyle immediately.
For an obese child, you have to find out whether she has pre-diabetes signs. After you get an accurate diagnosis, your next step is to develop an action plan.
Diagnosing pre-diabetes signs in children is usually similar to adults:
• Fasting blood glucose: Your child’s blood glucose level is determined after an overnight fasting. A good test results should be below 100 mg/dL.
• Glucose challenge: Your child’s blood glucose level is determined two hours after taking a dose of glucose. A good test results should be below 140 mg/dL. How much glucose your child should get when taking this test? For each kilogram of body weight, she needs to drink 1.75g of glucose. For example, your child weighs about 40 kilograms, then she needs to get 70g of glucose.
Many experts believe that fasting blood glucose test may have less accuracy than glucose challenge test. A few doctors also indicate that glycated hemoglobin test is a good tool to diagnose pre-diabetes signs in children. Glycated hemoglobin of 6 to 6.5 percent can be considered as a good pre-diabetes diagnosis. (6 percent is comparable to 140 mg/dL of blood glucose level.)
If your child is diagnosed with pre-diabetes, what you should do next?
• Sit down and talk with child why it is necessary to make a few changes in her lifestyle and diet habits to prevent future disease. This step is critical, because if your child cannot be in the same page, you will encounter plenty of resistances.
• Start with daily exercise program. Do not just tell her to do it, you need to accompany her and make an example. It will be good for your child’s health and your relationship. Your child should have about 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise each day. Even better would be one-hour-a-day program, you should also include some resistance exercises every 3 days.
• Keep your children active. Limit television, computers, mobile phones, and video games usages. You can exclude the time she needs to do her homework on the computer.
• Stop visiting fast food and buffet restaurant. You can return to these places once in awhile when weight problems are under control.
• Reduce the amount of animal protein. Replace it when plant protein for example, soybeans. Too much animal protein and saturated fat in meat may promote obesity.
• Avoid processed meat products. This includes sausages and luncheon meat, they often have added chemicals, such as preservatives and food colorings.
• Try to introduce as many vegetables and fruits varieties as possible. The sooner you introduce healthy diet, the more likely your children will enjoy eating vegetables and fruits.
These are some ideas in preparing healthy diet for your children:
• Gradually reduce carbohydrate-rich foods, such as milk shakes, lasagna, soup, and muffins, replace them with fruits and vegetable.
• Replace soft drinks with fruit juice.
• Mix yogurt with chopped fruit and nuts.
• Replace sweets with nuts and low-sugar dried fruit.
• Stir fry vegetables with a little olive oil.
• Go to the nearest farmers market and allow your child choose the vegetables and fruits she wants to eat.
• Rice, potatoes, and corn are not vegetables. Your children should eat less of them.
• Eat your vegetables. Your child will eventually imitate you.
• Be creative, you can’t expect your child to eat a lump of boiled spinach happily. Find simple and tasty vegetables recipes online.
For a child, a vegetable serving is usually smaller than for adults. A five years old child should get 5 tablespoons of vegetables each day (not five tomatoes). After your child reaches 8 years old, she should get at least half a cup of cooked vegetables and one cup of fruit each day.