Rates of obesity in children are on the rise. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than 15 percent of six- to-nine-year-olds were overweight in 1999 to 2000, compared with about 11 percent in 1998 to 1994. The study also found that increased rates of overweight and obesity have led to more and more children being diagnosed with previously grown-up, obesity-related conditions such as high cholesterol and Type II diabetes.
There is no quick and easy way to help your child lose weight. It requires long-term modifications in lifestyle and eating habits that need to be incorporated into the family structure. But it can be done. Here’s how:
1. Set realistic goals for your child.
Because children are still growing, it may be a better to help them maintain rather than lose weight. As your child grows taller without gaining weight, she will naturally become thinner. For more overweight or obese children, a one pound a week weight loss is a good goal. The more attainable the goal, the more likely it is you child can live with these lifetime modifications.
2. Encourage exercise.
Any type of aerobic activity will help your child expend calories. Walking, jogging, bike riding and Rollerblading are all great ways to burn calories. You should also encourage your child to stay active in other ways, like using the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking instead of driving to a friend’s house or the local store.
3. Choose healthy and nutritious foods.
Encourage your child to eat three small meals and two small snacks each day so she doesn’t go for long periods feeling hungry, which can ultimately lead to binging. Provide her with lots of fruits and vegetables and encourage her to drink water. An orange not only has fewer calories than a glass of orange juice, but it is has fiber that can help your child feel more full and satisfied. Offer low fat foods like skim milk and low-fat yogurts or cheeses. Low-fat snacks like popcorn or pretzels are better choices than potato chips, cakes and cookies.
4. Change your family’s eating habits.
Encourage your child to eat only when she is hungry and not as an activity. Serve family meals only in the kitchen or dining room without any other distractions like the television. If your child eats while watching TV, she may not be aware of how much food she is consuming and end up overeating.
5. Try behavior modification techniques.
A reward system may help motivate your child to stay on her diet. For example, if your child drinks water instead of soda for a week, reward her with a favorite activity or small toy. Do not reward your child with food.
6. Follow-up with your pediatrician.
Take your child to the doctor every two weeks for a weight check and blood tests too, if necessary. Avoid daily weigh-ins at home since small fluctuations in weight can cause a child added stress.
7. Be supportive.
It is important for your whole family to change its way of eating to help your child. Make sure that you don’t keep a lot of junk foods in the house. Keep cut up carrot sticks and celery as well as fruit on hand. Make healthy low-fat meals for everyone in your home. And most of all, be supportive of your child and provide a lot of encouragement.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.