If your child is overweight, chances are you want to help him get healthy. But sometimes that means ignoring popular diet advice. Often, what works for adults may not be best for kids.
“Children have their own set of nutritional needs for healthy growth and development,” says Tamara Melton, a dietitian and instructor at Georgia State University.
The best way to help a child lose weight? Work with his pediatrician to make sure that he slims down in a safe way. But you can also think about these simple steps to help your child — and the whole family — live a healthier, fitter lifestyle.
1. Find the right weight goal. Many younger children shouldn’t actually shed pounds. “Since they’re still growing, they may need to maintain their weight or gain at a slower rate,” Melton says. Older teenagers may be able to lose a half a pound to 2 pounds a week. Your child’s doctor can let you know what you should aim for.
2.Say “no” to diets and supplements. Your first impulse may be to put your child on a diet. But unless her pediatrician recommends it, avoid these kinds of major calorie-cutting plans. They may mean she won’t get the nutrients and calories she needs to grow. Plus, many diets may teach your child that certain items are “bad” or off-limits, which can change how she sees food later in life.
Weight loss drugs or supplements aren’t a good idea either (except when the doctor prescribes them). There’s little or no research on how these pills affect children, so they may not be safe.
3. Get the rest of the family on board. Instead of singling out your child, have a conversation with the whole family about how you’d like to make healthy changes for everyone, including yourself.
“Kids learn their habits from their parents,” Melton says. So it’s important to lead by example. One study found that children were much more likely to lose weight when their parents also slimmed down.