A recent study in the journal, Pediatrics, caught my eye, as it related to childhood obesity. I spend a good deal of time discussing healthy eating and exercise with my patients and their families, but I continue to see children who gain too much weight each year. Some of my patients qualify as obese.
This study out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital looked at 100 obese children, ages 7 to 12, and randomly assigned them to one of three different eating plans. One plan followed the wisdom of portion control, another followed a low-carb diet, and the last was a “reduced glycemic load” plan that cut down on certain carbs including white bread, sweets and white potatoes.
Over a one-year period, all three plans worked equally well in helping to control a child’s weight gain. Researchers did find that the low-carb plan was tough for kids to stick to. Most children in this group followed the plan to an extent by reducing carbs and calories, but not to the “strict limits of the low-carb plan.” In other words, they modified the plan.
It seems that the plan that “reduced the glycemic load” was essentially a modified low-carb diet. Children could eat certain “unrestricted” carbs, like fruits and vegetables low in starch, as well as whole grains. The limits were only placed on starchy carbs, but even some of those were not “forbidden.”
The beauty of teaching kids about modifying their diets early on is that they can see changes in their BMI (body mass index) more quickly than an adult. Why? They’re still growing! I explain to my patients (and their parents) that a prepubertal child grows about 2 inches a year and should gain somewhere around 3 to 6 pounds a year. All of that changes with puberty when a child’s growth velocity and weight gain both increase.
But, since children are growing, by simply maintaining their present weight (not losing weight), they’ll see changes in their bodies. Although children think this is “easy,” it still requires effort and changes.
Small tweaks like reducing portion size and cutting carbs (rather than trying to eliminate them) will pull down total daily calories. Add in daily exercise and your child will see real results. We’re still talking about the old-fashioned concept of burning more calories than you consume!
Lastly, the whole family has to be involved in making changes. Pick a plan your entire family can follow and stick to it until you see results.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a pediatrician, medical editor and media host. Submit questions at kidsdr.com