Childhood Obesity

Parents should be involved in treatment programs for their obese children, according to a new scientific statement published by the American Heart Association.  Childhood obesity is a growing issue in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades, with the percentage of obese 6–11 year old children increasing from 7 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008. More than one out of three children and adolescents in the US were overweight or obese in 2008.

In an effort to determine the most effective way to treat obese children, the authors of the statement examined research on the outcomes of several behavioral change strategies. Some of the strategies that they evaluated included high involvement by parents and caregivers in the context of treatment programs. Most of these programs were multi-disciplinary and involved a team of dieticians, psychologists, and medical staff. The programs were mainly carried out in a hospital clinic or university setting. From the research, the statement authors determined which strategies were most effective at weight loss. The strategies were implemented in a treatment program by healthcare professionals; however, the psychological principles on which they are based offer sound guidance for families of obese children.

The strategies include:

  • Identify specific behaviors that should be changed, as a family.
  • Create clear and specific goals and monitor progress. For instance, a goal could be to limit TV and video game time to 1 hour per day.
  • Provide a home environment that encourages healthier food choices. It is important to reduce temptations at home, such as eliminating high calorie desserts, in favor of offering a variety of fruits from which children can choose.
  • Parents should commend their children’s progress and use slip-ups as an opportunity to help children learn how to make better choices.
  • Food shouldn’t be used as a behavior reward, nor withheld as punishment.
  • Log progress toward goals, using either an online or written tracker.