Here's a scary statistic: nearly one third of kids age 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. Most moms would certainly like to help their kids fight childhood obesity for the sake of their health, but getting kids to cooperate can turn into a battle over every candy bar. Not up for a fight with your overweight child? Joanna Strober can help.
Two years ago, the mom from Palo Alto, California, was told that her 11-year-old son Jared needed to lose weight. Today he's a healthy teenager, and the mom behind the Kurbo Health program to help parents help kids to lose weight told The Stir how she helped her son pare his weight down without instigating a ton of family dinnertime fights.
At what point did you realize your son Jared needed to lose weight?
I'd often worried whether Jared could be a healthier weight, and it was clear that my son felt bad about it, too. He was active and played water polo, but at some point, someone made a comment about his weight, and that upset him. Nonetheless, every time I'd ask our pediatrician about it at his well visits, the doctor said, "Don't worry, he'll grow out of it."
By the time he turned 11, he weighed 135. Even though there had been no dramatic change in his weight, suddenly my pediatrician said, "You should worry." Yet he didn't have any concrete suggestions on how to help my son lose weight or how I could help.
So how did you figure out a weight loss regimen for him?
Initially I went crazy, Googling a bunch of research on what do you do for an overweight child. What I discovered was that there were no tools available for me. I saw that there were lots of tools to help adults lose weight, like WeightWatchers and MyFitnessPal, but nothing for kids. So Jared and I started keeping a food diary, tracking what he ate in an Excel document. It quickly became clear he was getting too many carbs: chips, crackers, pretzels, bagels.
So we decided to adapt the Traffic Light Diet, a method developed in the 1970s where you're only allowed a certain number of servings of "red light" foods that were heavy in carbs and sugar. We started with 15 "reds" per day, and over time whittled it down to five.
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Did Jared complain or rebel at any point?
Initially there was some protesting: It's hard to make changes like this. So to make things easier, we took all the "reds" out of the house. We made a deal: If you want a treat, you can go out and get it. I also didn't ask him to weigh himself, I took myself out of that equation. What also worked was that Jared could choose what he wanted to eat, as long as he didn't go over his "red" count. So one morning he had two Girl Scout cookies for breakfast.
When I raised some concern about that, he explained, "Mom, those are my reds for the day." Since he was in charge, it kept us from fighting about food all the time. You can't underestimate that. As a parent, it's really stressful to try to deal with these issues, because no child wants their parent telling them what to eat.
How soon did you notice results?
In five months, he'd gone from 135 to 120 pounds. Doctors say he's now a healthy weight, and Jared is very proud of himself. From there, we decided to work together to turn our program into a mobile app program called Kurbo.com, one of the first weight loss apps for kids. Kids love their cellphones, and I realized we could translate their enthusiasm about their technology into a solution rather than a challenge.
Have you helped your child lose weight?
Image via Joanna Strober