Staying Ahead of Childhood Obesity

By Sarah Pryor May 9, 2019

Baby fat is adorable, but if it hangs on past the toddler years, it can cause big problems for your child’s health.

According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity affects one in six children and adolescents in our country. And weight is a tricky topic for parents who hope to instill body confidence while still promoting healthy habits. 

We talked to Jaclyn McCord, MD at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Providence Pediatrics to determine what childhood obesity means, and how to combat it.

Obesity: what is it?

Dr. McCord said pediatricians use Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine healthy weights for both adults and children. BMI compares weight to height at a given age, which is important because heights can vary dramatically among children. 

Healthy BMIs are in the five to 85 percent range. BMIs in the 85 to 94 percent range are considered overweight, and BMIs of 95 percent and higher are considered obese.

Dr. McCord also said many factors determine a child’s weight — activity, diet, nutrition, genetics, sleep, certain medical conditions, medications and access to resources. 

“Some of these can’t be changed, so it’s important to focus on other areas that can be adjusted to help achieve a healthy weight,” she says.

Talk about health, not looks

When addressing body issues with your kids, Dr. McCord said don’t ignore weight, but discuss it in relation to health, rather than appearance. Focus on making healthy lifestyle choices as a family and encouraging your kids to do this as well.  

Remember that children pick up on their parents’ perspectives and attitudes, so let your children hear you making positive statements about yourself and others as a model. 

Inspire picky eaters

Got a “brown food eater” who won’t touch anything other than bread or cheese? Dr. McCord suggests starting by eating a good variety of foods yourself. 

“Children often mimic the people around them and often want to try what you are eating,” she says. “Don’t force them to eat food, but use lots of positive verbal praise, hugs, and kisses when he or she tries something new.”

Dr. McCord also said to get creative. Look for creative ways to include variety, like adding vegetables to pasta sauce, making tasty fruit and vegetable smoothies, or arranging food on a plate in a picture that makes eating more fun.

Get kids moving

In today’s screen-centric age, what’s the best way to get kids moving? Dr. McCord says move with them!  Charlotte is full of great outdoor spaces like parks, trails and greenways where kids and parents can run, bike or stroll while checking out nature. On rainy days, head for a museum like ImaginOn or Discovery Place.

If you’re stuck in the house find other ways to move. Dr. McCord’s favorite ideas are having a dance party or making a competition like silliest dance moves or most push-ups.

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, address it with your pediatrician right away. In the meantime, take as many small steps toward a healthy lifestyle as you can — whether it’s eating healthier or exercising more. The whole family will feel better.

Jaclyn McCord, MD is a pediatrician at Providence Pediatrics. Dr. McCord attended Wright State University for medical school and completed her residency at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Outside of the office, she enjoys spending time with her husband and her pets. Meet Dr. McCord!