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The Informed Parent

Healthy Weight and Beverage Choices For Children

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Aug. 21, 2006

Recently in the Journal of Pediatrics, childhood overweight and obesity have been topics frequently discussed for ongoing research. These topics appear as a clearly expanding national problem. Two article in particular caught my eye as special interest for parents, giving them quality information for improving their children's health.

The first had to do with parents' perceptions of their children's weight. The second covered the benefits of decreasing consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

As a rule, at well child visits, we always measure a child's weight and height. These values are then plotted on a growth chart to reflect where an individual child's weight measures as a percentage in respect to his peers. For example, a child at the 75th percentile for weight is above average for his weight, and has 25 percent of his peers that theoretically are heavier than him. The health of this percentile is determined not solely by this gross number but how it compares to the child's age and height. Using these factors a child's BMI, or body mass index, may be calculated as a standard of general health.

The Journal of Pediatrics article discovered that the majority of parents of overweight children seemed to be unaware that their children were overweight. In addition, in this overweight sampled group, the parents perceived they had less control over their children's weight and health than those who were of normal weight. This lack of recognition and sense of a lack of control led the most at risk, obese children to have the least informed and concerned parents. Consequently, these families were less likely to pursue strategies to improve their children's health and overweight status.

The other article went on to highlight a simple intervention that appeared to significantly impact overall BMI reduction. This study lasted approximately six months. It involved a group of adolescents who routinely drank at least twelve ounces of a sugar sweetened beverage per day. The intervention group adolescents received home delivery of non-caloric beverages to replace or at least displace their sugar sweetened beverage for the duration of the study. These teens also received education including verbal follow-up by way of telephone to encourage their choice of non-caloric beverages. The results of the study concluded that those teens with a significantly elevated BMI experienced the greatest benefits from decreasing their sugar sweetened beverage intake, reflected by an overall decrease in their weight.

This information is important. It provides two simple suggestions that pediatricians, parents, and community leaders can use to help families of overweight children. The first is to acknowledge the child's weight and whether or not the weight is at a healthful level. If it is not, this must be stated clearly. Thereafter, the second point may be included in the discussion of how to address this increasingly common health concern by highlighting the ill effects of sugar sweetened beverages.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem with many factors that may contribute to its etiology. But, these are two relatively straight forward ways to begin a conversation that may be long overdue with families who may not recognize or have ignored this important childhood health issue.

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