Obesity can lead to physical, social and emotional struggles for kids, so parents need to help their children maintain a healthy weight, experts say.
"Children with obesity are more likely than their classmates to be teased or bullied and to suffer from low self-esteem, social isolation and depression," said Dr. Alka Sood, a family medicine physician with Penn State Health Medical Group in State College.
"They are at higher risk for other chronic health problems, including asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes, and are more likely to be obese as adults -- resulting in increased risk of heart disease and other serious medical conditions," Sood explained in a Penn State news release.
The rate of obesity among American youngsters has more than tripled since 1970, and about 20 percent between age 6 and 19 are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That doesn't include those who are simply considered overweight.
Rather than talking to kids about weight, parents can make small changes around the house, suggested Kara Shifler Bowers, a registered dietitian and project manager at Penn State PRO Wellness.
"Talking to children about weight has lasting consequences," Bowers said. "Instead, implement an easy change like keeping a bowl of fruit available. One change at a time is more sustainable than a complete lifestyle overhaul."
Keep your home free of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods as well as unhealthy snacks, she advised. Keep a large, attractive bowl of fruit available.
Bowers also had these recommendations: Good snack choices include fruits and berries, nut butters, whole grains such as plain popcorn, raw veggies and ranch dressing or hummus, whole-grain corn chips with salsa, and low-sugar Greek yogurt.
Get kids involved in meal planning. Let them choose the fruit and vegetables for side dishes.
Sit down as a family for as many meals as possible, away from the television. When children see their parents eating nutritious foods, they're more likely to make similar choices.
Be physically active with your kids. Get them to be active for 60 minutes a day and join them for at least 30 minutes.
Reward your children with extra play time or family activities together, not with food. Food is for nourishment, not reward, Bowers said.
Parents need to be patient as they guide children to improve their eating habits and get more active.
"Food is powerful. It has the potential to heal and to cause sickness," Bowers said. "Don't underestimate the power of small changes that progress over time. All it takes is one step to start the process."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on obesity.