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Overweight children: Tips to avoid those extra kilos

41 million children globally are overweight according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately 15 percent of German children between the ages of 3 and 17 are overweight. Prof. Dr. Ute Spiekerkötter, Medical Director of the Department of General Pediatrics, Adolescent Medicine and Neonatology at the Medical Center – University of Freiburg, has been researching pediatric metabolism for years and shares some insight on causes and potential long-term health risks overweight children and adolescents face.

“There a various causes for children and adolescents becoming overweight, such as a diet too rich in sugar and fatty foods, and a lack of exercise,” says Prof. Spiekerkötter. Even a mother’s eating habits can have an impact: “Studies have shown that children whose mothers gained more than 17 kilograms during their pregnancy were more at risk to become overweight later,” according to Spiekerkötter. It goes without saying that overweight children and health risks are interlinked: “Overweight children are particularly at risk from diabetes, orthopedic ailments, and gastro-intestinal diseases,” adds Spiekerkötter.

A balanced diet and plenty of exercise - 60 minutes a day is recommended by the WHO - are two effective preventive measures. However, Prof Spiekerkötter warns: “Just because the scale shows that your child weighs too much does not mean that he/she should start dieting. Children go through important growth phases, and limiting a child's intake of valuable nutrients and minerals can actually stunt growth and development.” It is recommended that children maintain their weight until the next growth spurt. Ideally, your child’s weight and size will balance out to normal ranges during such growth spurts. Plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrain breads, low-fat dairy products, and moderate amounts of different meats help this balancing out process. Beverages like juices, lemonade and chocolate drinks contain excess calories which can be avoided by offering your child unsweetened teas and spritzers as the occasional alternative.

The goal should be to limit potential health risks which can be caused by being massively overweight. “Children, just like adults, have their own body types. When monitoring your child’s weight and size, always consider the child’s age as well,” emphasizes Spiekerkötter.   

Department of General Pediatrics, Adolescent Medicine and Neonatology