What parents should know about childhood obesity

Not every fat kid is overweight

For a society that values tolerance, there's one population we're not very nice to--fat people. We treat fat kids especially badly. We rail against bullying, but then we shame overweight kids and guilt parents for letting kids get fat. While obesity is problematic, every fat kid may not be overweight. Here are things parents need to know about fat kids and weight loss.

* Kids aren't created equal. Every child's physical makeup is different. Body shape, metabolism, nutritional needs and personal tastes vary. What constitutes "overweight" will be different for every child. Culture, socioeconomic and ethnic background and family history affect kids physically. So there can be no "one-size-fits-all" weight loss plan.

* A big kid isn't necessarily unhealthy. Sometimes a fat kid is healthier than his skinny age-mates. All my kids were in the top 90th percentile on the growth charts. They were also very strong, active, muscular and healthy. They rarely got sick and healed quickly when they did. During their chubby pre-adolescent phases, doctors advised that I put them on diets. I was more concerned about health than what the scale said.

* Kids need fat for development. Because kids are still under construction, their dietary needs are different than those of adults. Growing kids should be gaining weight, not losing it.

* Kids often get fat before puberty. Many kids go through a fat-face, chubby-belly phase. Then, in puberty, the body uses that fat for growth. The body redistributes fat and, if kids are reasonably active, converts it to muscle. The problem with obese kids is when weight gain is coupled with sedentary lifestyles. When kids put on too much weight in the wrong places (hands, feet, legs, bottom, back) and don't exercise, that weight may not come off after puberty.

* Kids often lose weight in puberty. When my kids hit puberty, each one slimmed down to super skinny. It didn't even matter that one son did nothing but lounge one whole summer. He still lost all his belly fat. When school ended in June he was fat. When he started in September he was skinny. The miracle happened despite his summer of sloth. As a teacher, I've seen lots of kids do this. Had I put the kids on diets they would have been unhealthy-skinny and not had what they needed for puberty growth. Before you put your child on a diet, determine whether really needs to lose weight.

* Healthy eating and fitness are more important than weight loss. Children generally should not diet. They should especially not crash diet. The key is feeding kids healthy, nutritious food. Play, fresh air and exercise are essential too. See that kids get those and any weight problem has a better chance of resolving itself.

Mostly, model a healthy lifestyle. Kids learn healthy habits from good parent example.