Supportive parents are key to helping children overcome struggles with weight and body image issues. Read one local child's success story and learn how you can help your child adopt healthy habits and ultimately achieve a healthy weight.
Renee Young still remembers when her daughter, Allison, first decided that she needed to lose weight. She was in the sixth grade, standing five-feet tall and weighing 179 pounds. Allison's pediatrician constantly expressed concern over the youngster's weight, but common recommendations like eliminating junk food and encouraging exercise were already being practiced in the Youngs' New Rochelle home to no avail.
Allison Young was miserable. Shopping for clothes left her frustrated. Nothing fit, and she couldn't wear the same types of clothes other girls her age wore. She felt uncomfortable around her male peers. Fearing that others were judging her, she put up a wall around herself.
Allison Young is hardly the only New York metro area child to be plagued by her weight. In the past 10 years, obesity levels have doubled in the United States. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, more than half of all adult New Yorkers are overweight or obese, and nearly half of all New York City elementary schoolchildren are an unhealthy weight. One in five kindergarten students is obese, too. Being overweight is not just about looks. Being overweight can lead to asthma, depression, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as increased risk factors for other chronic illnesses.
"It's extremely difficult to tell if your child needs to lose weight," says Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., who specializes in children's weight loss at her Midtown East and Long Island pediatrics offices. The only way to tell if a child is normal weight, overweight, or obese, she says, is by determining his or her body mass index.
"Parents think their overweight or obese children are a normal weight because so many children are overweight these days," Dr. Dolgoff says. "Either that or parents think that their children just need to lose a little baby weight or are preparing for a growth spurt, but that's just not the case anymore."
Even if parents don't realize their children need to lose weight, children may understand that there is a problem. Peers may tease overweight children or treat them differently. Supportive parents, however, are key to helping children overcome struggles with their weight and body image issues.
Dr. Dolgoff recommends that children, who have different nutritional and caloric needs than adults, only lose weight under a doctor's supervision, but the Youngs tried a different way.
Mother and daughter got motivated by joining Weight Watchers together near the end of Allison's seventh-grade year. With Weight Watchers, a weight-loss plan based on portion control and a healthy-eating lifestyle, Allison lost 11 pounds.
By having her mother attend meetings with her, the entire family was able to improve their eating and exercise habits, which is often crucial to an overweight child's success.
"If you treat a child in a sensitive manner, then you will decrease the likelihood of disordered eating in the future," Dr. Dolgoff says. "There's also a commonly held belief that thin people don't have to make any changes, but parents can admit that they have made mistakes when they're preparing meals or by not taking care of their own health."
As summer approached, Allison Young asked if she could go to diet camp. Mother and daughter did research and viewed videos on different camps. They settled on Camp Pennbrook, located in Pennsylvania. The all-girls camp gave Allison the best opportunity to succeed.
Dr. Dolgoff recommends that parents choose camps that have both pediatricians and registered dietitians on staff to provide comprehensive care. In general, she says children will have to focus primarily on their diet while following the American Academy of Pediatrics' exercise guidelines, which include exercising for an hour a day.
By summer's end, Allison Young had lost 15 pounds and her diet had changed dramatically. Instead of frozen meals, she chose fresh fruits and vegetables as well as chicken and fish.
When eighth grade began, mother and daughter knew that their hard work was worth it. "Her first day of eighth grade, every single person - students and teachers - came over to her to tell her how great she looked," Renee Young recalls. "She knew things were different and started feeling better when we went shopping for school clothes."
Since beginning Weight Watchers and attending diet camp twice, Allison Young has lost 59 pounds. Now a college student, she is five feet, six inches tall and weighs a healthy 125 pounds. And, although she occasionally has a late-night dinner of chicken wings and fries, the extra weight hasn't come back.
Also see: Healthy Weight Loss Checklist for Kids
Weight Loss Camps and Programs for Kids in the New York Metro Area