For many kids and teens, it’s been a summer of fast foods, cold cut sandwiches, soft drinks, ice creams, snow cones and candy- a treat fest. And as temperatures rose so did their weight. According to a new national study, the risk of children gaining excessive weight is far greater during the summer months, only adding to what has become one of the most chronic illnesses in children: obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that over 14 million children under 18 are affected, which translates to one in five.

While not all children who are overweight are unhealthy, most studies have found that those who are obese, especially in the higher range, are more likely to be obese as adults. They’re also likely to acquire adult health problems later on in life like asthma, bone and joint problems, depression, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, to name just a few. They are also four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors

When it comes to childhood obesity, it can be more than too much time indoors, too much of the wrong foods (and drinks), or lack of support at home. There are also genetics, physiological and socioeconomic factors to consider.

Leslie Fontenot, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who works at the Children’s Specialty Pediatric Endocrinology Center at Our Lady of Lourdes, has treated many children with weight problems. She suggests trying some of the following approaches to setting your child on a healthier course.

Start With Small Positive Changes:

-Eat as a family and eat the foods you present to your children.

-Limit screen time on the computer or phone.

-Involve the child in grocery shopping, picking out new foods – and cooking.

-Replace sugar-sweetened soft drinks, juices and sports drinks with low-calorie beverages once or twice a week until you find an alternative, he/she likes.

-Reward good behavior with something other than food.

-Adjust portion sizes.

-Limit eating out to twice a week.

-Introduce movements that your child enjoys, bouncing on a mini trampoline, dancing, riding bikes – and participate.

-Increase servings of fruits and vegetables.

-Pair new foods with a familiar and liked food or condiment (ex. broccoli and cheese sauce or ranch dressing, carrots and peanut butter, whole wheat waffles topped with a few chocolate chips, green beans with ketchup for dipping)

“Be patient and don’t get discouraged,” says Fontenot. “Experts agree that it often takes 30 repeated exposures to a new food before kids are even willing to try it. Parents often give up before then.”

Some teens and/or their parents misinterpret obesity prevention as eliminating foods they consider unhealthy or bad all at once. Fontenot advises, “Avoid putting kids on strict diets and adding the risk of setting the child on a course of chronic dieting and potential for eating disorder development.”

Treatment begins with involving the whole family, including grandparents. A 2020 study from Brown School at Washington University discovered that grandparent child care is linked to almost 30 percent increase in childhood overweight and obesity risks. Grandparents can also impact their grandchildren’s weight by influencing their diet and physical activity.

Helping children stay at a healthy weight is a team approach that involves support on the caregiver’s side and focusing on the whole health, including mental health, as well as accountability on the child’s part.