Although no one allows their child to become overweight or obese on purpose, being heavy is hard on children. It saps self-esteem, makes physical activity harder, and predisposes children to adult diseases earlier in life. Obesity doesn’t have to be a prison sentence for children—using newer understandings of obesity parents can help guide their children to a healthier weight. We know now it’s more than just calories in versus calories out. Food choices, inflammation, gut bacteria, and sleep are factors that influence obesity.
Balance blood sugar to manage childhood obesity
Low-fat diets have long been heralded as the antidote to excess body fat, but research increasingly shows it is excess sugars and refined carbohydrates that promote obesity. These foods negatively impact blood sugar handling and promote insulin resistance, a condition that often leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Many find the key to losing unwanted weight is to ditch the sodas, shakes, and fruit juices, substitute fruit for desserts, eat a protein-rich breakfast, and to eat a diet that includes vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Also, avoid meals that are heavy on high-glycemic foods, such as potatoes or rice.
Ditch junk foods to combat obesity in children
Food that is packaged, processed, or from fast food restaurants often contains hydrogenated oils, chemical additives, excess sugars and refined carbohydrates, and insufficient fiber. Hydrogenated oils skew cellular function and promote blood sugar imbalances and obesity. These foods are also designed to be addictive and promote overeating. It is best to limit these foods to special occasions, if at all.
Ferret out food intolerances to reduce obesity-promoting inflammation
Chronic inflammation has been associated with obesity. One of the most common causes of chronic inflammation is a sensitivity or intolerance to a food. Many people have food sensitivities and don’t realize it. The most common sensitivity is to gluten, the protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and oats (unless they’re gluten-free oats). A food sensitivity panel or elimination diet can tell you which foods are causing inflammation and possibly promoting childhood obesity. Many people lose weight simply by removing the offending food, gluten and dairy in particular.
Balance gut bacteria to manage childhood obesity
Researchers increasingly are finding imbalances in our gut bacteria are linked to many disorders, including obesity. These imbalances can have their roots in C-section deliveries, bottle feeding, and antibiotic use in childhood. Consuming cultured foods, such as brined pickles and water kefir, taking probiotics, and eating ample vegetables (the insoluble fiber promotes colonization of healthy bacteria) are ways to help balance gut flora.
Make sure your child sleeps enough to prevent obesity
Sleep deprivation has been solidly linked with weight gain. Chronic lack of sleep promotes fat storage, prevents fat burning, increases hunger and cravings for sweets, and lowers metabolism. Children should be getting plenty of sleep regardless—more than adults—to facilitate proper growth and development. But sufficient sleep is also critical to combating childhood obesity.
These are just a few strategies that incorporate new findings in childhood obesity and do not require your child to starve to lose weight. Of course, healthy portions and plenty of physical activity are still important, but by simply tweaking what’s on the menu you can help your child enjoy an active childhood in a slimmer body and reduce his or her risk of obesity-related diseases too early in life.
For more advice or support in managing your child’s obesity, contact my office.