'The Weight Of The Nation' — How To Change This For Your Family

June 11, 2012


This month, HBO is airing a documentary entitled "The Weight of the Nation" urging Americans to view obesity as a public health emergency. We have all heard the statistics and they are grim.

"1 out of 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes."
“This is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents."

Currently 18% of children and adolescents are overweight and most estimates indicate the trend is continuing. So what can parents do? Below are a few tips that not only have the scientific evidence to back them, they work practically in families committed to change. Yes, it is a family approach that everyone needs to embrace as a lifestyle change. Your child doesn’t need a diet but your family might need a nutrition make-over!

  • No sweet drinks. As a registered dietitian, I used to believe that a “once in a while approach” when it comes to sugary beverages. No more. Liquid calories

    don’t register in the brain as food the same way solid foods do. That “super sized drink” can be between 600-800 calories. Sweet drinks are more than just soda. Fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, flavored coffee drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks that are consumed outside of physical activity all count as a sweet drink. Although juice has some nutrition, limit the consumption to about 1/2 cup per day. It is common that the children struggling to lose weight drink 500-1000 calories per day from beverages. Fighting back against obesity means we drink water, skim milk and unsweetened beverages. As stunning as it might sound, 20% of children under the age of 1 consume soda or a fruit flavored drink regularly. Remove these from your grocery list

  • Eat breakfast and focus on quality. Studies indicate that children who consume breakfast have lower BMI’s than those who skip this important meal. Scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, fresh fruit and milk represents a power breakfast that fuels young bodies and brains. A glass of low-fat milk and a banana is a quick breakfast for those who don’t have the time to eat breakfast at the table. Think whole foods with minimal sugar and added fats. As a working parent, I know the struggle to get all of the children out of the door for school or camp. Try making a peanut butter sandwich the night before with a juice box of milk for a speedy grab and go breakfast. This breakfast can be eaten in the car or the bus.
  • Play. Children should move and structured exercise programs are not the same as play. Sweating is good and face it, we live in Houston and sweat is part of living in southeast Texas. Make sure your children have water available at all times. If your child plays an outdoor organized sport, a sports drink might be a good rehydration beverage but not for regular play.

Fuel Up to Play 60 represents a great school-based program cosponsored by the NFL and the National Dairy Council — ask if your school can participate. During the summer, turn off the TV and the video games and promote at least 60 minutes of play every day. It is also a good idea to ask your children to help with family chores. Anything is better than sitting in front of the television or computer. Any movement counts.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Seasonal fruits are delicious. Consider watermelon or sliced peaches with low fat yogurt as a delicious snack. Frozen grapes are sweet and cold snacks for older children. Make sure to have fruits and vegetables at meal and offer them at the beginning of the meal when your child is the most willing to try a new food. These powerhouses are great sources of fluid for hydration and rich in antioxidants. Eating plant-based foods also contribute to a higher fiber diet important for natural fullness and digestion. Fruits and vegetables are also great sources of potassium which is needed for normal blood pressure control. More is better and delicious!
  • If your child is overweight, visit  your pediatrician. Your pediatrician knows your child and your family. Seek their advice and if needed, a referral to a dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital. As pediatric dietitians, we can help you and your child with practical strategies to reduce weight.

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