Employee & Community Health

Achieving healthy weight for kids: It's a family affair

9/16/2019 by Kristina Penza, APRN, CNP, Dr. Tara Kaufman and Michaeleen Burroughs, RDN, LD

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Today, nearly 20% of American children are obese, up from 5% in the 1970s. Not only does carrying extra weight affect their health, quality of life and well-being now, it will affect them as adults, too. Being overweight has a lasting impact on children's bodies and mental health and can lead to bullying, poor body image, low self-esteem, unhealthy weight control and depression. That's why your primary care provider may have addressed your child's weight during a well-child visit. 

If you've had this discussion with your child's provider, you know they have a wealth of resources to help you — from nutrition information to healthy-living programs just for kids. The trick is to apply that information once you get home. So here are some techniques and tips for creating an environment at home that benefits not just your child, but the entire family. 

Make it a family affair. Any changes in eating and lifestyle will be good for everyone. 

Change the focus. Make the changes about healthy eating and activity rather than weight. Don't reward — or punish — kids with food. Shaming doesn't work. Compliment your children on lifestyle changes, such as choosing to play outside over video games inside, rather than on the loss of a few pounds. 

Take action. Children learn fast, and they learn best by example. In general, if your child is elementary age or younger and you have some weight concerns, don't talk about i; just start making changes as a family. 

Adopt new ways of eating. Some behaviors are known to promote weight gain — including skipping breakfast, eating meals away from home, eating too fast, eating in front of screens (phones, TV, etc.), eating too-large portions of unhealthy foods and eating when you're not hungry. One behavior that helps everyone maintain their weight is eating meals together. Serve regular meals and healthy snacks — and whenever possible, eat with your kids. 

Up your healthy-eating game. Now that you've added a walk after dinner and having breakfast (even if it's on the go), it's time to up your healthy-eating game. 

  • One easy step is to avoid sweet beverages such as flavored milks, juice, soda and crafted coffee drinks. And for children under two, whose palates are still developing, skip added sugars completely. 
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. For good health, everyone should eat at least three servings of fruit and three of veggies every day. Easier said than done! These resources can help:

Get moving. Every family is different and making healthy changes in food and activity takes time. Just remember, there's so much more to health than weight. 

Kristine Penza, APRN, CNP, is a family nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Express Care. She's also a member of the Employee and Community Health (ECH) Pediatric Obesity Taskforce. 

Dr. Tara Kaufman is a family physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Department of Family Medicine and practices at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast. She received her MD from the University of Minnesota Medical School and completed her residency in Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Her interests include obesity, pediatrics, wellness and women's health. She's also a member of the ECH Pediatric Obesity Taskforce. 

Michaeleen Burroughs, MS, RDN, LD, has worked at ECH in Family Medicine for 20 years. She currently helps patients at Mayo Family Clinics Northwest, Southeast and Kasson, and Baldwin Family Medicine and Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). Her areas of interest are diabetes and child and adult weight management. She's also a member of the ECH Pediatric Obesity Taskforce.