A parent’s guide to healthy weight loss in children

A parent's guide to healthy weight loss in children.

Today, up to 30 percent of children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese. This “obesity epidemic” is a source of great concern to parents and caregivers alike, as these kids face an increased risk of a host of serious medical and behavioral health complications, including type 2 diabetes.

We sat down with Dr. Robert Markowitz and dietitian Sharon Weston of the Boston Children’s Hospital Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program to help parents support their children in maintaining an optimal weight.

How do I know if my child is overweight or obese?

Markowitz: The best way to determine if a child is overweight or obese is to calculate body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of weight in kilograms to height in meters squared. Many schools are now calculating BMI, or you can find BMI calculators online. A person is considered overweight with a BMI of 85-94 percent and obese with a BMI of 95 percent or above.

At what age can a child be considered overweight?

Markowitz: BMI is used for children over age 2. OWL sees patients from ages 2  to 20 if they are still receiving their care from a pediatrician.

If my child is overweight, what do I do?

Markowitz: Helping your child lose weight and get healthy typically requires a combination of improvements to your family’s diet and lifestyle. There are often other contributors that may be behavioral or emotional, which is why our program brings together a team of caregivers — physicians, nurse practitioners, dietitians and psychologists — to work together to care for each patient holistically.

What diet do you recommend for a child or teen trying to lose weight?

“Paired snack” = 1 serving of a low or moderate glycemic carbohydrate (one that doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar), paired with 1 serving of a protein or fat. Try an apple with string cheese or carrots with hummus. List of low glycemic carbohydrates.

Weston: The OWL Program focuses on a low-glycemic eating plan, which emphasizes eating balanced meals and paired snacks, and minimizing juice and sugar-sweetened beverages. Eating the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats can help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.  

What do I do if my child is hungry and wants a snack?

Weston: Eating three balanced meals and two paired snacks a day can help minimize big swings in blood sugar and this can help control appetite. It’s important not to skip meals and also to pay attention to food choices and portions. Paired snacks can help satisfy cravings in between meals, and can also help us eat less at the next meal. Choosing an abundance of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats, as well as less processed foods is recommended for meals and snacks.

How can I get my child to eat more vegetables?

Weston: Try offering vegetables prepared different ways (raw, boiled, sautéed, grilled, roasted). Also, different seasonings or dips can make vegetables seem quite different and more appealing to a picky eater.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program.

About the experts: Dr. Robert Markowitz is an attending physician in the OWL Program whose background is in general pediatrics with an emphasis on growth, development and behavior. As a registered dietitian in the OWL Program, Sharon Weston has worked with a variety of patients and encourages creative and practical solutions  to optimize nutrition.