The Center for Disease Control says three times as many kids are overweight than they were in 1980. Weight problems in childhood can lead to diabetes, cholesterol, and heart problems. That should give us cause for concern, but it's important to keep the issue in perspective, too. In some families, kids go though a chubby phase in puberty that they outgrow around age 12-14. I was a chubby child until age 12. Then I slimmed down and was actually slightly underweight in college and early adulthood. Three of my children went through a similar growth pattern. How do you know if a child is going to outgrow being overweight? Family obesity problems are one cue. Here's how I helped my kids avoid weight problems later in life.
* Monitor the weight, but don't obsess over it. The last thing you want is for your children to develop unhealthy body image issues. Our oldest daughter spent several years with a severe eating disorder, part bulimia and part anorexia. She spent time in a mental health clinic for eating disorders. If weight is a concern, I would teach kids to use the BMI (body mass index) calculators, like this one from Mayo Clinic. Like the scale, it's a tool, not a weapon. I would make sure to keep the focus positive and not let them get depressed.
* Family nutrition is essential. Our children had good, healthy appetites. We didn't eat exclusively organic foods, nor did we follow a special diet (gluten-free, vegetarian, lactose-free). I let them eat until they were full and fed them regular meals and healthy snacks. I cooked regular, healthy, balanced meals with lots of food variety. We ate lots of fish and seafood. At breakfast and lunch, I served at least one vegetable and fruit (not counting potatoes). My kids grew up loving many different kinds of foods. I didn't cater to finicky eaters, but did allow them to refuse to eat one item per meal. If it was a vegetable or protein, they had to substitute.
* Junk food is for treats, not meals. I only allowed soda pop at holidays, and limited candy and sweets. We drank water with every meal; water was the only beverage we ordered when we dined out. Chips, baked goods and snack foods were for after-meal treats. We limited eating out to once a week or less and the kids rarely ate fast food.
* Exercise is crucial, especially playing outdoors. My boys were both chubby between the ages of 8-12; after that time they lost both lost a great deal of weight and got very thin. At 19 and 21, both are of normal weight. I credit the fact that they played few video games (we had an old Game Cube for a time, but only a few games) and did not use the computer much. We did not have network or cable television and only watched movies occasionally.
* Organized sports are good, but not essential. Our children tried a few group sports, but weren't attached to any particular one (in college one son now plays racquetball, but on his own). They did play outside all the time, though. We went swimming every day in summer. They rode their bikes, hiked, sledded, snowboarded, roller-bladed, skateboarded and built forts. Our daughters did ballet, jazz dance and yoga. We played family badminton and yard games. They had outdoor after-school jobs: raking the lawn, shoveling snow and delivering newspapers.
Happy, active children will have less problems with weight problems and feel better about themselves.