Childhood Obesity: Kids Fight Back

Lorena Ramos gives a talk on how to read nutritional labels at a community garden in North Oakland. Lorena is a patient at the Healthy Hearts clinic at Children's Hospital Oakland.
Lorena Ramos, 14, is a patient at the Healthy Hearts clinic at Children's Hospital Oakland. Credit: Gabriela Quirós.

One in six kids in the United States is obese, a condition that doubles their risk of heart disease. Castro Valley teenager Lorena Ramos has been overweight since she was a small child. Now, with the help of her mother and the Healthy Hearts clinic at Children’s Hospital Oakland, she’s fighting to exercise, eat healthily and drop weight. Will she succeed? Watch our story to find out.

The staff at the Healthy Hearts clinic had useful advice for parents. Here's a list I came up with.

7 Things I Learned About How to Help Your Kid Keep a Healthy Weight:

1. Serve appropriate portions.


“Half of your plate should be fruits and/or vegetables, a quarter of your plate is your protein, and the remaining quarter is your whole grains – things like rice or pasta,” said Dr. Lydia Tinajero-Deck, co-director of the Healthy Hearts clinic.

The portion of whole grains should be about the size of a fist, she said. This can sometimes be surprising for kids and parents used to covering their plate with rice or pasta and placing the protein or veggies on top. A serving of meat should be about the size of the palm of a hand.

2. Try to have some meatless meals.

Marin County cardiologist Dean Ornish found in the mid-80s that a low-fat vegetarian diet, together with stress management and exercise, could reverse heart disease. But during our interview, he repeated over and over again that it’s not all or nothing – you don’t have to go vegan to be healthy.

3. If you and your family go vegetarian, make sure you don’t eat too much cheese.

“A lot of times, especially with our teen girls on a vegetarian diet, there’s a compensation with extra cheese,” said Dr. June Tester, co-director of the Healthy Hearts clinic, “and they end up actually, ironically, introducing a lot more saturated fat.”

4. Lobby for more and better physical education in schools, healthier school lunches and summer programs for kids.

“I wish for kids to play for an hour every day at school. It will help them academically as well as help their little bodies not gain so much weight,” said Dr. Tinajero-Deck. “And we can feed kids a lot better in schools. Oh, my goodness, we can do so much better.”

After Dr. Tinajero-Deck suggested to a group of dietitians at the Oakland Unified School District that milk or water were better choices than juice for breakfast, they went ahead and modified their menu.

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5. Give your kid the gift of movement.

“Jumping rope 5 to 10 minutes, four days a week, is great exercise,” said Tess Barbieri, the exercise physiologist at the Healthy Hearts clinic. “You get a lot of bang for your buck.” She also recommends things as simple as bouncing a ball back and forth, or tossing bean bags and skipping to retrieve them.

6. Help your child find their life-long exercise.

Some kids like to ride a bike or rollerblade; others prefer to go on a walk with their friends. The important thing is to get moving and to make moving a habit.

“You really have to teach kids at a young age that movement is just a part of their lives,” said Dr. Tinajero-Deck.

7. Find someone for your kid to exercise with.

Sometimes kids won’t exercise with a parent. Or parents don’t have time (imagine that!).

“Try to figure out who’s going to be that motivator for your kid,” said Dr. Tinajero-Deck. “Maybe a best friend.”

You can also find out more about obesity prevention in a related post from KQED's State of Health blog, Lessons Learned from the War on Smoking, Applied to Obesity.