Eating the wrong foods, lack of exercise, too much screen time — it’s no wonder that one-third of U.S. children and teens are classified as overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity is one of our nation’s most serious health problems, contributing to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disorders and a host of other conditions.  And most children who are overweight carry those extra pounds into adulthood, increasing their health risks and reducing their quality of life.


On a national level, it’s important for us to support initiatives like “Let’s Move,” a campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama. That multifaceted program (www.letsmove.gov) provides information to help parents make better food choices for their children and encourage them to increase their level of exercise. In keeping with that initiative, many school systems are revising the menus to encourage healthy eating, and theU.S. Food and Drug Administration is striving to develop better nutrition labeling for food packages.

Tips for parents

In the weight management program at Miami Children’s Hospital, we take a highly structured “no excuses” approach to treating obese children, which includes education and guidance for parents who must stay on top of the situation at home. Here are some suggestions for helping your children:

• Educate your children about the benefits of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and fiber.

• Serve smaller portions at family meals.

• Limit the use of TV, computers and videogames.

• Encourage your children to walk instead of driving them everywhere.

• Insist that your child exercise for at least an hour five times per week.

• Reduce consumption of high-sugar and high-fat foods.

• Be supportive and accepting of your child.

• Become a role model, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.

• Let your child help prepare menus, shop for foods and cook meals.


It’s also important to keep track of your child’s body mass index (BMI), the most common measure of obesity, using a table, available online or from your pediatrician. You should also measure your child’s waist and report any changes to your pediatrician.

Finally, don’t focus on losing weight because that can be dangerous to the metabolism of a growing child. Instead, try to stabilize your child’s weight. Then, as your child grows and develops, those extra pounds can gradually be converted to healthy muscles and tissues. Meanwhile, you should become a partner with your child in instilling healthy eating and fitness habits that can last a lifetime.

William I. Muinos, MD, FAAP, is associate director of the Division of Gastroenterology at Miami Children’s Hospital. He is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology, and recently authored a study on nutritional patterns of adolescent athletes.