GMA: Helping Your Child Lose Weight

Every week Good Morning America’s parenting contributor Anne Pleshette Murphy answers e-mail questions from GMA viewers. Read on for solutions to everyday parental problems.

Q U E S T I O N:

I was unable to view your piece on overweight children and addressing the issue. My stepson, who is 12, lives with us. He has a concerning weight problem; is sneaking food and lying about it, etc.

My husband feels that if we address the issue again (we have times before) that it will force him to eat even more. Kindly send me the tips and advice that was mentioned in your television piece. I would be most grateful.

Thank you.

— Kate in Frankfort, Ky.

A N S W E R: When we were preparing the segment on overweight kids, I spoke at length to Susan B. Robert, Ph.D., author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health (Bantam Books, 1999).

I would highly recommend her book and also the Web site she and her colleagues at Tufts University monitor. It can be found at

In the meantime, here is some of the advice she provided when I interviewed her about the challenge of helping a preteen lose weight:

"The bottom line is the same it has always been — namely, for either adults or kids to reduce weight they have to eat fewer calories than they expend," Robert said. "Research studies have shown that exercise programs have a small (I could even say trivial) effect on weight by themselves (although they are good for maintaining weight you have previously lost), so if you need to lose weight you need to eat less. You absolutely can't lose any meaningful amount of weight without making dietary changes."

For kids, there are important issues about how you approach reducing calorie intake to prevent harm.

First, they should never go hungry — it impairs schoolwork, stops growth etc. Second, they also need to eat a diet that is fundamentally healthy, meaning one that has all the vitamins and minerals needed for normal development and growth. This is why kids should NEVER be put on Atkins-type diets, which do not include many of the high-nutrient foods such as fruits, grains, legumes, which are foods that kids need.

What kinds of foods?

So with kids you come to the issue that you have to reduce calorie intake for them to lose weight, but they can't go hungry and they can't eat weird diets that cut out major classes of healthy foods. In the past, this would have led all doctors to simply recommend a standard low-fat diet (though in fact, most MDs know so little about treating obesity that they tell their parents not to worry).

But new research (which Robert said she is sure will be incorporated into the new government dietary recommendations that are due out in Sep 2001) is showing that there are three things you need to think about when it come to hunger-reducing foods that help kids (and adults) eat less

Caloric density. Several research studies, including from my own lab have shown that foods with few calories per ounce of food (i.e. low caloric density) reduce voluntary intake. Simply choosing low fat foods doesn't necessarily get you to low caloric density foods, because there are now lots of low fat foods on the market that have a ton of calories just because they contain no water (baked chips, low fat cookies, candy etc).

Glycemic index: low glycemic index carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and reduce hunger more effectively than high glycemic index carbs.

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