Weight Management for Obese Children with Learning Disabilities

Best Practices for Weight Management for Obese Children with Learning Disabilities
Children and adolescents who are overweight are also at risk for becoming overweight adults. Getty Images

Research currently states that children who are obese are at a greater risk for social, emotional and physical problems. Overweight children are more likely than their peers to develop cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, and asthma, among other diseases. Childhood obesity has also been linked to the premature onset of puberty. Being overweight may be associated with being bullied, which in turn is related to poorer mental health and decreased physical activity.


Unfortunately children and adolescents who are overweight are also at risk for becoming overweight adults. Obese children with learning disabilities may have more challenges on top of these risks, such as having more difficulty learning new information or a new skill. Some children and teens with learning disabilities may find maintaining a healthy weight difficult, and may need help understanding information and advice about their diet and nutrition, cooking and regular physical activity. Research consistently shows that only a few strategies have been proven for weight management – physical activity and healthier eating.

Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Research continually states in combination with healthy eating, it can help prevent a range of chronic diseases along with keeping kids at a healthier weight. Physical activity helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bone, muscle and joint development, and decreases the risk of obesity.

Current CDC recommendations for physical activity are as follows: Children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day for a healthy weight. Recent recommendations from the initiative Lets Move are similar: For kids and teens (that’s anyone between 6 and 17 years old), goals are exercising as a family for 60 minutes a day and being creative in how you and your family members get those 60 minutes a day of exercise.

Regular physical activity should be consciously promoted and prioritized within families, schools, and communities. It is important for parents to routinely promote physical activity, including unstructured play at home, in school and in other settings. Limiting television and video time to a maximum of 2 hours per day goes hand in hand with being able to increase physical activity. It is important to talk about these topics while remaining sensitive and careful not to criticize your child and keeping the focus on health rather than actual weight and appearance and keeping the dialogue open for your child to ask questions.

Parents play an important role in not only making healthy choices but also in teaching children how to make healthier choices. Dietary practices should be fostered that encourage moderation of food rather than overconsumption, emphasizing healthy choices rather than restrictive eating patterns or “bad foods”. It is important for parents and caregivers to offer nutritious snacks, such as vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains; encouraging children’s autonomy in self-regulation of food intake and setting appropriate limits on choices; and modeling healthy food choices.

Some other ideas on how to get children on board to healthier eating is to take them grocery shopping and letting them pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try, getting them involved in preparing the food by letting them wash vegetables or helping mix certain ingredients. Again, the emphasis should be on healthy eating and not restricting “bad foods”.

Reducing child and adolescent obesity requires efforts by families, schools, communities, government and industry. Parents can play an important role in preventing and reducing child and adolescent obesity by promoting healthy eating through family meals, providing healthy foods in the home, limiting television watching and other sedentary behavior, and encouraging physical activity.

Families should be educated and be able to use language that their child understands when discussing these topics. It is important for parents to recognize the impact they have on their children’s development of lifelong habits of physical activity and nutritious eating.

Dr. Vicki Bolina is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She obtained her Master of Science Degree (M.S.) and Doctor of Psychology Degree (Psy.D.) from Argosy University - Chicago Northwest Campus. Dr. Bolina has worked in several psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, a school system, outpatient clinics, a university counseling center, a domestic violence shelter, and prison. She specializes in mood disorders and has extensive experience providing therapy and testing for children, adolescents, and adults with a wide range of issues.  Her professional interests include childhood disorders, adolescent psychology, and health psychology.  In addition to private practice, Dr Bolina currently teaches online psychology classes to both undergraduate and graduate level students and does freelance writing.  

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