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Exercise for Weight Loss
Q: My ten-year-old is chubby because she loves to eat. I would like to help her tone her body because, although it hasn't happened yet, I don't want her to be teased about her weight in school. She tells me that she is larger than her classmates. I think this would be fun and good for our health. Our doctor did some bloodwork at my request to determine that she doesn't have a thyroid problem. I have been overweight my whole life and want to help her control her weight before she hits puberty. Thank you for any advice you can share with me.
A: One quarter to one third of school-aged children in the United States are overweight or obese (very overweight), which puts them at higher risk for disease and low self-esteem. Children become overweight because they take in too many calories and do too little exercise.
It's important to speak more with your daughter's doctor to find out where she falls above a healthy weight for her height and age. This will help determine the best course of action to take. If your daughter is over her ideal weight, the focus should be on preventing any further unnecessary weight gain by changing her eating habits and increasing her physical activity. In general, only if your child is very overweight would a weight loss program be suggested, and only under the supervision of your doctor.
In order for your daughter to maintain a healthy weight, creating healthy eating habits and increasing her level of physical activity are necessary. The emphasis should be on feeling healthy and strong -- not on weight. Let's start with exercise.
Exercise should become a routine part of her day, like brushing her teeth. In addition to maintaining or achieving an appropriate weight, physical activity has many other benefits, such as helping to build and strengthen bones, muscles, and joints. Exercise also has long-term benefits such as helping to protect against heart disease (many risk factors for developing heart disease start during childhood) and other medical illnesses that your child will appreciate when she gets older.
Whatever exercise she chooses, she should enjoy it. If she likes the activity she will stick with it. An exercise video can be a great idea to increase her physical activity. You should be able to find some at your video store or local library. This will allow you to try out different videos to see which works best for both of you before purchasing one.
This might be a good time for her to try a new activity such as tennis, skating, soccer, dancing, or swimming. Also, enrolling her in a team sport may help, since she will be exercising with her friends and competition tends to begin to become important at her age. A team sport will allow her to develop an appreciation of teamwork and good sportsmanship.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.