Should my child go on a diet?

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

Author: Canadian Living


Should my child go on a diet?

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

The number of overweight and obese children in Canada is growing in epidemic proportions. These children are at greater risk for developing a number of adult-like physical diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and even cancer. In addition, recent research has found that obese children are at greater risk for developing psychological disorders from social pressures.

The most recent Canadian statistics are:

• 35% of boys are overweight in Canada

• 29% of girls are overweight in Canada

• 17% of boys are obese in Canada

• 15% of girls are obese in Canada

• 20% of childhood diabetes cases are now type 2 diabetes (adult-onset diabetes)

• 42 to 63% of obese school-aged children will become obese adults

With the numbers rising, concerned parents commonly ask if placing their child on a diet is the best approach. In general, a child on a diet does not result in long-term success. Children do not respond well to overly restrictive rules, especially when it comes to the food they eat. For best results, turn your overweight child on to healthy eating with these three steps.

Step 1: Feed them well
A recent study found that popular low-fat, calorie-restricted diets do not work in the long term for pediatric weight-loss success. The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that a reduced glycemic load diet had a greater effect on weight loss and insulin control than the standard reduced-fat diet. In other words, low-glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains should be an integral part of every child's diet. In addition, a child's diet should contain lean proteins (turkey, chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, low-fat dairy products and soy) and healthy fats (almonds, walnuts, avocados, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, omega-3 eggs, yogurt, fish and fish oils).

To improve the quality of food choices in your home:

Eliminate all refined foods from your household, including white bread, pasta, granola bars, cereals, cookies and muffins, and substitute them with their healthier, high-fibre, whole-grain counterparts.

Decrease the amount of fast food your child consumes. Once a month is plenty.

Get rid of the soda. It is loaded with calories and sugar (approximately 10 teaspoons per can) and can cause cavities. Stick to water and 100 per cent natural juice.

• Cut up a variety of fruits and vegetables as grab-and-go snacks.

• Visit the bulk food section of your grocery store to load up on healthy items such as granola, dried apples and raw almonds.

Step 2: Keep them moving
North American children spend an average of three to five hours per day sedentary, in front of the television or computer. To keep children fit, they need to be active -- a minimum of one hour per day is recommended. So find a sport they like, be it ballet, swimming, hockey or soccer, and get to it.

Other helpful tips:

• Do not let your children mindlessly munch in front of the television or computer.

• Remove televisions and computers from their bedrooms.

• Join your local YMCA and make exercise a family affair.

Step 3: Whenever possible, avoid disciplining with food
We often use food, such as candy, cookies or soda, to avoid a tantrum in the middle of the grocery aisle or to soothe a child's hurt feelings. But, when food is used for discipline or for emotional reasons, it sets up an unhealthy relationship for a child that is often difficult to break.

Instead of using food, try rewarding good behaviour with:

• A special day with Mom or Dad, such as a trip to the zoo, museum or movie theatre.

• Stickers or colouring books.

• “You are my special helper&" or “I am proud of you&" certificates.

• A special book at bedtime. For teenagers, rewards can involve use of the car, allowance or extra time with friends.

Keep in mind children participate in “monkey see, monkey do.&" In other words, they often mimic the behaviour and eating patterns occurring in their home. This is why when dealing with an overweight or obese child, it is prudent for the parents to also switch to healthy eating habits. By making healthy choices a family affair, long-lasting weight loss is more likely to occur.

Click here to take our quiz and get your child's nutrition report card.

Dr. Joey Shulman is the author of the bestselling book The Natural Makeover Diet. For more information, visit

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Should my child go on a diet?