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Childhood obesity can easily be defeated, says weight loss expert Dr. Dyan Hes

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Childhood obesity is an alarming epidemic in the United States, as more than one-third of American children are now overweight or obese. But parents can take steps to eradicate this problem before weight issues, poor health, and low self-esteem become their child's destiny.

In an exclusive interview Feb. 24, childhood obesity specialist Dr. Dyan Hes revealed simple steps parents can take to help their children slim down and get healthy.

"It all comes from parenting," said Dr. Hes, director of the pediatric obesity program at New York's Gramercy Pediatrics. "Kids have to learn to eat properly."

Dr. Hes said the combination of processed foods, sugary drinks, lack of exercise, and giant portions are driving the tsunami of childhood obesity today. Dr. Hes, who has helped many overweight children slim down, underscored that lifestyle plays a bigger role than genetics when it comes to weight.

"Ninety-nine percent of overweight children don't have glandular problems," said Dr. Hes, who's board certified in both pediatric and bariatric medicine. "They have an environmental problem."

Dr. Hes credited former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and First Lady Michelle Obama with bringing awareness to childhood obesity and taking steps to defeat it. In August 2013, Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign was credited with helping reduce childhood obesity in 19 U.S. states.

Dr. Hes, who was named one of New York magazine's "Best Doctors" in 2013, said it's important to nip the obesity problem in the bud sooner rather than later, and said it's easier than you might think. Losing weight becomes harder once people get older and their poor diet patterns become a lifelong habit.

She pointed out that weight issues in childhood often mushroom into poor body image, low self-esteem, becoming targets of cruel weight-bullying at school, eating disorders, and health problems like diabetes.

"Overweight kindergartners are four times more likely to become obese adolescents," said Dr. Hes, who recommended the following steps to combat childhood obesity:

  • Stop giving sugary drinks to kids. Instead of giving your child soda or juice, give them water or low-fat milk.
  • Get moving. "Children should have an hour of physical activity every day," said Dr. Hes. Shockingly, most elementary schools only allot 45 minutes a week for exercise.
  • Reduce portion sizes. Serve your child's meal on a salad plate instead of a huge dinner plate.
  • Cut down on processed foods. The sugar and chemicals in junk food accelerate weight gain and metabolic issues and can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Be kind and supportive of your child. Dr. Hes said you shouldn't discuss weight with your child or ever use the word "fat," as critical words can be emotionally scarring. "Remind your child that thinness is not the goal," said Dr. Hes. "Being healthy is."
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