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If Your Child Needs Treatment for Weight Issues

For overweight children, the most successful treatment combines healthy lifestyle changes—improved diet and exercise—with a focus on changing such behaviors as eating while watching TV. Overweight children also need psychological support to deal with the lack of self-esteem and isolation they often face.

What about drugs or surgery? Most doctors consider them last resorts for severely overweight adolescents with other serious risk factors.

If you're worried about your child's weight, talk with your doctor. Depending on your child's weight and age, the goal might be simply to stabilize your child's weight so that, as he or she gets taller, your child "grows into" a more appropriate weight. Or, the goal might be to gradually lose and keep off excess pounds.

What if your doctor suggests a treatment program? Look for a program that involves both you and your child. This is especially important with younger children, because you're the one who's buying and preparing the food.

What to look for

Experts say a child's weight-control program should also:

  • Employ a variety of health professionals. The best programs may include registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, pediatricians, family doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

  • Evaluate your child's medical status. A doctor should review your child's weight, growth, and health before enrollment. During enrollment, a health professional should monitor your child's weight, height, growth, and health.

  • Fit the age and unique capabilities of your child. Programs for 4-year-olds differ from those for 12-year-olds. They place differing degrees of responsibility on the child and on the parents.

  • Focus on behavioral changes.

  • Teach your child to select a variety of foods in the right portions.

  • Encourage daily activity and limit sedentary activity like watching TV.

  • Include a maintenance program to reinforce new behaviors and deal with issues that led to the weight problem in the first place.