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Our Overweight Child

Ingrid, mom of Nicholas, 7, Encino, CA

We always loved Nicholas's chubby cheeks and tummy and assumed it was just baby fat that would go away as he got older. It didn't. By age 4, he weighed a hefty 90 pounds—40 pounds heavier than a child his age and height (44 inches) should be.

Nicholas couldn't pull his weight across the monkey bars, and kids called him "fatty." When he came home in tears, it just broke our hearts.

As a family, we didn't have healthy habits—we were couch potatoes and ate greasy fast food for many meals. At dinner, Nicholas would polish off adult-size servings and sneak ice pops into his room at night. We were at a loss—our pediatrician's advice wasn't really helping us figure out what to do. My husband, Bob, and I knew it was up to us to try to find real solutions.

Friends recommended a new pediatrician, who was so alarmed by Nicholas's weight, he referred us to a pediatric endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in children's hormone disorders. She warned us that his blood pressure was high and that he was at serious risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. We were terrified that he was doomed to struggle with obesity—and possibly long-term health problems—for the rest of his life.

But the endocrinologist, along with a nutritionist, taught us how to tackle his weight problem as a team. To make exercise part of our lives, Nicholas and I started taking walks after dinner. Bob bought bikes to ride on the weekends. At first, the physical exertion was tough for Nicholas, but as he gained endurance, we started taking longer rides and graduated from walks to runs. The stronger he got, the more he enjoyed them.

We began to cook at home more often and choose healthier meals when we ate out or ordered in. After two months, the pounds slowly started to come off, and did so for a few more months. We all lost a little weight. But then Nicholas, who was 5, hit a plateau around the fourth month. So in the summer of 2003, his endocrinologist suggested the family-based weight-management program Kidshape. For eight weeks, we kept a food-and-exercise diary and measured the amount of food we ate to understand serving sizes. Nicholas, then 6, developed a new awareness about his eating habits. If he'd had pizza for lunch, he'd choose a light dinner. He could size up portions. He'd choose healthier snacks, and if he started to eat out of boredom, he'd say, "Mom, let's go for a walk."

Nicholas is now a healthy 7-year-old at 91 pounds and 56 inches—foot taller and a pound heavier. His blood pressure and sugar levels are normal. He swims, does karate, and has lots of friends. He's confident. We're so proud of him!

As parents, we've learned that it's our job to serve healthy meals but also to trust him to practice his new lifestyle. And he does, thanks to everything he's learned over these difficult years.