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How can we help our 8-year-old daughter lose weight?
Q: My 8-year-old daughter has a weight problem. She gained 15-18 pounds this year and now weighs 100 pounds. She has been chubby since she was a baby, weighing 5-10 pounds more than other children her age. What can she do to lose weight?
R. Orlando
A: It’s good that you’re aware of how important it is for your daughter to eat healthy foods, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. Currently, one in four school-age children are overweight. It’s not a question of appearance, but of health. Overweight children are more likely to develop joint problems, back pain, breathing problems, as well as lower self-esteem. They are also at higher risk for developing diabetes and heart disease.

Talk with your doctor about developing a plan for healthy eating, exercise, and weight checks for your daughter. When young children are overweight, the goal is usually not to have them lose weight but rather to slow their weight gain as they grow taller so they can grow into their weight and reach a healthy weight for their height. At 8 years old, your daughter may be entering puberty and starting her growth spurt in height—this is a great time to start your healthy eating and exercise plan. Here are some basic tips:

  • Plan a balanced diet: The “food pyramid” shows that children and adults should eat mostly grains, cereals, starches, fruits, and vegetables in addition to sources of protein such as meat; and fewer fatty foods and sweets. After age 2, children can drink low-fat or non-fat milk products. Make meals at home from fresh ingredients rather than eating out at fast-food restaurants that typically serve high-fat, high-calorie meals.

  • Offer reasonable portion sizes: Start with smaller portions on the plate. Eat slowly so you can feel when you’re getting full, and stop eating when you’re full.

  • Encourage drinking lots of water: Water is very healthy and helps fill you up so you don’t overeat. It’s good to drink a glass of water with each meal, and a glass in between meals.

  • Keep junk food and soda out of the house: If there are sweets at home, it’s tempting to eat them. Have healthy snacks on-hand at home such as fruit slices, raw vegetables with a low-fat yogurt dip, and low-fat cheese and crackers.

  • Limit TV viewing: Children who watch more than 1-2 hours of TV each day are more likely to be overweight. Make sure there’s no TV in your daughter’s room, and limit the time she watches TV. Also, don’t let her snack in front of the TV because it encourages her to overeat.

  • Encourage exercise every day: Exercise is the key to weight control, fitness, and overall health. Try to build exercise into your daughter’s daily activities:

    • Can your daughter walk or bike to school? Are there other neighborhood children who could join her?

    • Are there any after-school sports programs that she could enroll in? Soccer, basketball, swimming and other sports are great for exercise, getting to know other children, and having fun.

    • Does she like to dance? Play music and dance around the house; and consider enrolling her in a dance class.

    • If you have a younger child, take him or her out for a walk in the stroller every day and have your daughter join you and help push the stroller. Give her lots of praise for being a responsible big sister.

    • Make sure the whole family follows healthy eating and exercise practices. In addition to improving your own health and helping to lose the extra pregnancy weight, your daughter learns healthy (or unhealthy) practices from you and she will be encouraged by the whole family’s support for a healthy lifestyle.

    • Give her positive reinforcement. Try not to overly criticize her for overeating or not exercising. It’s best to praise her for her successes in healthy eating and exercising.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician