For families with a history of it, obesity is heartbreaking enough. It can cause multiple health complications for either parent, as well as difficulties not only with conception, but with carrying a fetus to term. Unfortunately, for many children, the hardships don’t end there- millions of babies and toddlers struggle with the effects of obesity after birth, as well.

In pediatrics, there is a quantifiable difference between being overweight and being obese. Children are compared to the average heights, weights, and other characteristics of other kids their age, and those that are above the norm for weight are considered “overweight.” This may not impact their health, however, as it is still possible for a very tall child to be overweight for their age group, but underweight for their overall size. Obesity occurs when a child that is otherwise average in height and muscle or bone mass carries too much fat, and it can lead to many of the same complications that obese adults experience. However, putting children on diets is risky, since calorie restriction can cause nutritional deficiencies. Excessive exercise can harm developing joints, bones, and muscles, and diet supplements are only rarely safe for adults, let alone kids! Fortunately, there are some other things you can discuss with your pediatrician to help your child develop normally.

Look at sources of extra calories in your child’s diet. Liquids are often a culprit, because taking in liquids contributes to calorie intake, without making the child feel full or satisfied. As a result, a child can drink thousands of calories of juice or soft drinks a day, and still feel hunger. Many pediatricians recommend no more than 4-6 ounces of pure fruit juice per day, while others recommend cutting that with equal parts of water to further reduce excess calories and glycemic impact. Children should not be given soda, especially not artificially sweetened or caffeinated soda. Another thing to consider is whether your child eats a varied diet. Do they have favorites that are routinely prepared for them? Kids often crave sweeter foods than adults, who tend to prefer more savory flavors, so a child’s favorites are often high in sugars. Encourage eating a wider variety of foods in your child from an early age to help avoid them settling on a few favorite items.

While childhood obesity is a growing problem in many developed countries, there is still hope. By educating themselves on ways to help their children enjoy high nutrition, low-calorie foods and beverages, and encourage a lifelong habit of exercise, it’s possible to avoid the detrimental side-effects of an overweight childhood.