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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    My child is at an obese weight range, isn't this just a phase?

    At a recent doctors visit my child was catagorised in the obese weight range and the doctor seemed quite concerned but I have always thought that this is just a phase, you know that puppy fat is normal. Is this really something to be so concerned about and if it is where do I begin? I feel that I'm feeding him a healthy well balanced diet but should I rethink this?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • I am the Senior Dietitian and Director of Menuconcepts.  We  provide personalised, one on one consultations and develop individual weight loss and health programs.  We have clinics … View Profile

    I think  when it comes to children and weight that we tread very carefully and put things into perspective.  I beleive if a child is average height but ther weight appears to be closer to the 75th to 95 th weight percentiles, then they are heavier than they should be.  I think it is ok to start looking into why this may be without forcing the issue down the childs throat.  You do not want to start putting children on restictive diets, and making them weight themselves regularly, but I believe that chatting to an expert like an accredited practising dietitan about this is a good step. The longer you wait, the longer bad habits are left to develop.   It is important firstly that the parent understand what healthy snacks are that should be consumed everyday and what snacks are classed as occassional snacks, they should understand how to read lables to know if a food is too high in sugar and/or fat and to low in fibre, and they should also understand what correct portions are.  If they are taught this then they can start adjusting a child's diet without making it a huge focus for the child e.g mum starts serving smaller serves for everyone at dinner with larger serves of vegetables, and starts putting fresh fruit, low fat dips and carrot stick in the lunch box more often than muesli bars and chips.  The families pick healthier low fat take aways vs high in fat choices.  This way it is a gradual change for the entire family and this does not point out to the child you are overweight and need to diet and eat less.  It is just making everyone in the family better educated about how to live healthier.

  • Jane O'Shea

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian. I am also a licensee for the “Am I Hungry?” Mindful Eating Program, “Am I Hungry” … View Profile

    Childhood is a period of sporadic growth and special care should be taken at this time.  Obese children are more likely to go on to be obese adults so it is especially important for children to maintain a healthy weight through puberty and into adulthood.  This is the time to develop a healthy relationship with food, for parents to be good role models, not to use food as a reward and to develop routine meal times for the whole family. Offering a healthy diet is a great start, but portions also need to be taken into account as it is possible to have too much of a good thing. 

  • Joanna Sochan

    Naturopath, Nutritionist, Western Herbal Medicine Practitioner

    Joanna is a Natural Medicine Practitioner (Naturopath, Herbalist and Nutritionist) who offers an integrative and holistic approach to health and wellbeing. She applies a number … View Profile

    Many children go through developmental phases when they put weight on and then lose it when they go through a rapid growth period. However, when obesity is present it’s different and we need to ask why it developed in the first place and then look closely for possible reason(s). One of them could well be nutritional deficiencies as it is now known that obesity is being caused, at least in part, by deficiency of essential nutrients that are missing in their diet, despite overeating. Many basic nutrients are lacking in overweight people and their bodies are actually in a state of starvation. Moreover, because the food eaten is low in nutrients needed for countless body functions, the body keeps making people hungry even shortly after a big meal because the required nutrients were not provided so you ‘need’ to eat more to get them. This of course leads to metabolic imbalances resulting in inability to burn calories efficiently and thus weight gain.
     
    Many of the lacking nutrients are the same ones needed for detoxification systems (such as the gut, kidneys, lungs and skin) to excrete the toxins. If these systems are not functioning properly the body activates its emergency system – it stores the toxins in the fat tissue and will increase the number of fat cells as needed to store the toxins away from the major organs. Hence toxicity is also one of the reasons for putting weight on and difficulties to lose it.
     
    Thirdly, obese people have more fat cells than normal weight people. The number of fat cells can be easily increased but not decreased - the number of mature fat cells stays constant, they either shrink or expand. If the child is obese it predisposes it to being obese later in life and one of the reasons is because they have more fat cells to be filled (developed when obese in childhood) any time when they start to eat poorly, are under stress (and overeat to ‘compensate’) or exercise less than required.
     
    In summary, if the child is obese the most beneficial way for the child to deal with this is to seek help of a knowledgeable practitioner who can identify and treat physiological imbalances and deficiencies, and correct nutrition.   

  • Amanda Clark

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Amanda Clark (Adv APD) is a senior dietitian at Great Ideas in Nutrition on the Gold Coast. She is the creator of Portion Perfection, a … View Profile

    It may or may not be a phase. Certainly children may gain weight before a growth spurt but obese children have about a 50% chance of progression to adult obesity, and this could be as high as 78% in older obese adolescents. I think if their classed just as overweight but they eat good food and they're active, then it's unlikely to be a problem.

    But if they’re in that obese range, which your child has been identified to be, then the next step is to look at their eating habits and activity levels. If there are any problems there then yes, this is a problem.

    I would say an accredited practicing dietician would be the person who could help you work out whether their behaviors are going to lead them on to continued weight gain or if this will just be a phase. You can find a dietician by going to daa.asn.au, and clicking on “Find the Dietician”.

  • Lisa Renn

    Dietitian

    Lisa is an APD with 12 years experience, specialising in helping people identify and change habits that impact negatively on their health. Inspiring change, Lisa … View Profile

    It’s a bit of an old wives' tale, the puppy fat. What we actually know is that if kids are overweight or obese in childhood they're more likely to carry that weight through to adolescence and certainly from there to carry that weight issue through to adulthood. So, childhood is actually a really great time to start talking to kids about healthy eating and demonstrating healthy eating within the home environment.

    It doesn't work if it's just the child who is supposed to be eating well and the rest of the family can be doing whatever they please. It's definitely a strategy where an accredited practicing dietician can certainly look at the whole family lifestyle, the whole family intake, the food likes and dislikes and make sure that every member of that family is contributing to the healthy diet and well-being of that child.

    Certainly we know that for kids, if they're a little bit overweight and certainly if they're very overweight it has an impact on them socially and it impacts on their confidence, which can impact on their success at school. It's actually really quite an important time to start putting these ground rules in around healthy eating and exercise. It's definitely something to take action on.

    An accredited practicing dietician can be a really important part of that team to help your child actually start to decrease weight. Or what we actually look at in childhood is that we aim to maintain a weight whilst they're growing. So, it's not actually weight loss that is the key, but that we try and stabilize the weight gain, maintain the weight whilst they grow, sort of stretch them, so to speak! The whole family is involved in that process.


  • Anthony is an experienced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian. Anthony practices out of Wakefield Sports Clinic and consults to a number of elite … View Profile

    I think this is quite a common scenario, to be perfectly honest. Yes, I think we should be worried about children who are in the obese weight range, particularly if it is body fat that is noticeable. The thing about the weight categories is they take into account just pure weight. They don't take into account body fatness versus muscle mass so if you're a bigger child that's naturally taller and maybe a bit more well-built from a muscularity point of view, then it might not be such a concern.

    But if you're at the high end with a high level of body fat, it's really not a good sign if you're a child because what we know is that they go on to be even more obese as adults. I'm absolutely concerned about this sort of scenario. Unfortunately it's all too common. Have a look at primary school-aged children.

    I've got primary school-aged children and I have a concern at the number of children who are obviously overweight. You don't have to be measuring things in a real fine detail to be able to notice it. I think we're setting ourselves up for a big problem down the track. So if it was my child, then I'd be getting some more advice. It might be that you think you're providing a healthy enough eating pattern but it might be that there's hidden issues.

    It could be that what the child actually needs something a little bit different and getting some professional advice is definitely the way to go.

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