Help At Your Fingertips

How to help an overweight child shed weight

Obesity rates in children here are rising. Pre-schools have been asked to help them eat healthy and be active. Parents should make an effort to do the same.

Dr Yvonne Lim, a consultant at the paediatric endocrinology division at National University Hospital (NUH), said the causes of obesity are complex.

Apart from genetic factors, there are environmental factors such as increased screen time, consuming energy-dense and nutrient-poor food and beverages, and insufficient sleep.

In a small percentage of children, obesity is caused by underlying medical conditions, she said.

Dr Lim, who also runs the Youth Lifestyle Change Clinic, NUH's weight-management clinic, said obesity can lead to problems such as diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obstructive sleep apnoea, irregular menses, knee and ankle problems, depression and low self-esteem.

Long-term problems include a higher risk of obesity as an adult and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and many types of cancer, she said.

Dr Lim shares some tips to help an overweight child lose weight:

1 Eat

healthy Remove snacks at home and pack home-cooked food for outings, if possible. Avoid or reduce the frequency of going out for buffet meals or fast food.

Parents can follow the Health Promotion Board's healthy-plate guide on what to serve children.

Half the plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with whole grains and the remaining quarter with meat and other proteins.

2 Be active

Make physical activity, such as climbing stairs and walking to school, a part of the family routine.

A child aged from five upwards should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.

And time spent watching TV or playing computer games should be limited to less than two hours a day.

3 Set a good example

The family plays an important role. Set an example by ensuring that everyone eats healthy food at home. Parents can also take a walk or join a sport with their child.

4 Focus on slowing weight gain

Do not put a child on a weight- reduction diet without checking with a doctor.

Children need adequate nutrition and calories to grow. It is more important that they eat a variety of healthy foods to get the necessary nutrients. A healthy weight can be achieved by eating nutritious foods and being more active.

As a child is still growing, the aim is to slow down weight gain and decrease his body mass index (BMI).

5 Be sensitive

The child may have low self- esteem, and experience teasing or bullying in school, or feel easily discouraged if there is no weight loss.

The focus should be on achieving a healthy lifestyle - physically and mentally - rather than emphasising on weight.

6 Look out for abnormal eating habits

This is especially so for teenagers. The main concern is that they do not have eating disorders, such as binge eating, bulimia or anorexia.

These are forms of unhealthy eating behaviour that could lead to further health and psychiatric problems.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'How to help an overweight child shed weight'. Print Edition | Subscribe