Q: My kids battle a weight problem and although I think they eat pretty well, their father is tall and weighs 220 pounds. Could their weight be due to genetics?
– Katie in Kansasville

A: Yes, overweight does beget overweight. Children have an 80% chance of becoming overweight if both parents are overweight, a 40% chance if one parent is overweight, and only a 7% chance if both parents are lean. However, obesity rates are escalating far too fast for this epidemic to be caused by genetics. In short, genetics may increase a child’s susceptibility to obesity, but those ticking genes only explode into a serious weight problem with the help of habits. Most kids battling weight problems consume more calories than they burn. They’re eating more fat, sugar, and processed calories and are moving less than any generation since the dawn of humankind.

Children who eat high-fat diets are the ones most likely to be fat. Low-fat diets help keep kids lean. Then there’s the exercise issue. Gone are the days when kids walked to school, played hide and seek for hours, and rode their bikes until sundown. Today children sit, watch TV, play Nintendo, star at computer screens, all of which burns no more calories than taking a nap. Whether your child is pudgy or down right too big for his britches, the best approach is common sense. Your child must learn to select nutritious, low-fat, low-sugar foods and to gear activity to his/her physical capability. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to offer nutritious foods; it’s your children’s responsibility which of those foods they eat. Besides talking with a dietitian about your child’s eating habits, you can: o Throw out the chips. Stock the kitchen with only easy-to-grab cut-up fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain crackers and breads, air-popped popcorn, nonfat milk, and fresh fruit juice. If all your child has to choose are these nutritious foods, he or she is bound to be healthy and leaner. In addition, these high-fiber foods are low-calories and filling. o Encourage your child to eat only when hungry and stop when full. Don’t force children to eat if they’re not hungry and don’t require that they clean their plates. o Switch from soda pop to water. o Be restaurant savvy. Kids eat more fatty foods when eating out. Either eat out less or be more selective at restaurants; help your child choose fruit, salads, grilled meats, and nonfat milk. o Never use food as a reward or punishment. -Elizabeth Somer