How Can Parents Keep Their Kids From Becoming Obese Without Triggering an Eating Disorder?

Parents need to model healthful eating, and not focus on weight or looks.

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A growing number of children in the United States are obese. How can parents keep their kids from becoming obese without triggering an eating disorder, particularly in young girls?

Kenneth Cooper

Walk the talk. Without question, the best way to prevent or treat obesity in children is for parents to set the example themselves—eating healthfully and increasing physical activity. Parents must focus on healthful behaviors, not weight or looks. Teach the 80/20 concept: Make healthful choices 80 percent of the time and treat yourself 20 percent of the time. While caloric reduction is mandatory, deprivation and rigid restrictions of food do not work as a healthful long-term strategy for children.

Here are some additional recommendations to prevent obesity and inactivity in children:

  • Target for no more than a 2-pound weight loss per week, and work toward a target weight that is in the lower 85 percent BMI range for the child's age and gender.
    • Consume at least three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
      • Allow no more than one hour of television or computer games per day.
        • Exercise either individually or in a group activity for one hour at least five days per week.
        • If the whole family incorporates subtle evolutionary—not revolutionary—changes, everyone will benefit from a healthful environment at home.

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