March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Many factors contribute to weight problems in children.
A tendency to be overweight runs in families. However, this does not mean that any child is sure to be overweight. Heredity is just one part of the picture. Family patterns such as eating and activity habits may have a much stronger influence on weight than heredity. These habits are considered environmental factors.
Many things in a person's environment can lead to weight gain. For example:
- The type and amount of food available
- Activity level
- Snacking habits
- Using food for reward or punishment
- Amount of time spent watching TV, using the computer and playing video games
- Eating at restaurants or fast food places more than once a week
- Drinking lots of sugar-sweetened beverages
Spending a lot of time in front of the TV or computer can lead to weight gain. These activities don't use much energy. Watching TV burns about 50 calories per hour. Playing tag burns about 500 calories per hour.
Help your child to be active every day. Limit total time in front of the screen to one or two hours per day. Have your child get up and move around during commercials. Encourage your child to do other activities. Many children snack on high-calorie foods, such as crackers, chips and cookies while they watch TV or play computer games. This may add to weight gain. Try having a family rule against eating while watching TV, using the computer or playing video games.
Some medicines may increase weight gain or appetite. Check with your child's doctor about this. Maybe your child can take different medicines.
Children who are always hungry may be eating for emotional reasons. They may use food to avoid strong feelings that can be uncomfortable or hard to handle.
Feelings can be overwhelming. If your child eats as a way of dealing with feelings, he can forget what physical hunger feels like. If you think that your child is overeating for emotional reasons, help him learn how to deal with his feelings in a healthy way. Remind your child that emotions are normal. Food can't solve anyone's problems. Food may make your child feel better for a little while, but the problems are still there.
Talk to your child's doctor or an RDN. They can help you find out what is going on with your child.