American girls who are overweight in their “ ’tween” years—between 9 and 12 years old—are 10 times more likely to grow into overweight adults, says a recent Journal of Pediatrics report. Experts say good family nutrition habits and plenty of exercise are keys to helping these girls stay healthy.
“The best way is to adopt family nutrition and physical activity habits that promote healthy food choices,” said Connie Crawley, a UGA Cooperative Extension food and nutrition specialist.
Determining a healthy weight can be tricky. Crawley recommends having a pediatrician chart the girl’s growth pattern. This compares her growth to a standard set by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Ideally, she should be between the 25th and 85th percentiles for her body mass index,” she said. Weight loss isn’t the answer, though, unless she’s morbidly overweight.
If more exercise and healthier eating isn’t working for your child, consult a registered and licensed dietitian at a local hospital or clinic. Before you try to help her manage her weight, it’s wise to talk to a nutritionist. Eating too few calories can slow growth and hamper school performance.
Make sure your child is getting a healthy diet without sacrificing needed protein, calcium and other nutrients. Crawley suggests serving low-fat and nonfat dairy foods, more cooked dried beans and peas, skinless poultry and fish (not fried) and leaner cuts of red meat.