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Are you one of the millions of Americans who set better health and weight loss among their New Year's resolutions? If so, read on to learn how to make the coming year's effort a success for yourself and your loved ones.

At least start by understanding the health risks for obese children and what can be done about it. In the U.S., one child in five is overweight and the number of overweight children continues to grow.

Although children have fewer weight-related health problems than adults, overweight children are at high risk of becoming overweight adolescents and adults.

Children become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns or a combination of these factors. In rare cases, a medical problem, such as an endocrine disorder, may cause a child to become overweight.

As with adults, a child's total diet and activity level both play an important role in determining a weight. The increasing popularity of television and computer and video games contributes to children's inactive lifestyles. The average American child spends approximately 24 hours each week watching television -- time that could be spent in some sort of physical activity.

If you think your child is overweight, talk with his or her doctor, the best person to make that determination. Physicians will begin by measuring your child's weight and height to determine if the weight is within a healthy range.

However, assessing overweight in children is difficult because children grow in unpredictable spurts, so a physician will also consider your child's age and growth patterns to determine whether your child is truly overweight.

For example, it is normal for boys to have a growth spurt in weight and catch up in height later. It is best to let your child's doctor determine whether your child will "grow into" a normal weight.

An overweight adult is more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, gout (joint pain caused by excess uric acid) and gallbladder disease.

Being overweight can also cause problems such as sleep apnea (interrupted breathing during sleep) and osteoarthritis (wearing away of the joints). And the more overweight you are, the more likely you are to have worse health problems.

But the good news is that, if you are overweight, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight may greatly improve many of the problems linked to obesity, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Slow and steady weight loss of no more than one pound per week is the safest way to lose weight. Very rapid weight loss can cause you to lose muscle rather than fat. It also increases your chances of developing other problems, such as gallstones, gout and nutrient deficiencies. Making long-term changes in your eating and physical activity habits is the best way to lose weight, and keep it off.

When you eat more calories than you need for your day's activities, your body stores the extra calories as fat. Exercise and physical activity burn calories. So balancing the calories you eat with the calories you use through physical activity will help you achieve your desired weight.

Any type of physical activity -- strenuous activities such as running or aerobic dancing or moderate-intensity activities such as walking or household work -- will increase the number of calories your body uses. The key to successful weight control and improved overall health is making physical activity a part of your daily routine.

For the greatest overall health benefits, experts recommend that you do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and some type of muscle-strengthening activity and stretching at least twice a week.

However, if you are unable to do this level of activity, you can gain substantial health benefits by accumulating 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity a day, at least five times a week.

Moderate-intensity activities include some of the things you may already be doing during a day or week, such as gardening and housework. These activities can be done in short spurts -- 10 minutes here, eight minutes there. Alone, each action does not have a great effect on your health, but regularly accumulating 30 minutes of activity over the course of the day can result in substantial health benefits.

To become more active throughout your day, take advantage of any chance you get to move around. Here are some examples:

Take a short walk around the block.

Rake leaves or mow the lawn.

Play actively with the kids.

Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

Take an activity break from deskwork; get up and stretch or walk around.

Dr. Allen Douma welcomes questions from readers. Although he cannot respond to each one individually, he will answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Dr. Douma in care of Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, Ill. 60611. His e-mail address is

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