Cleveland pediatric occupational therapists childhood obesity

Childhood Obesity and How Pediatric Occupational Therapists Can Help

Kids with disabilities are at increased risk for a number of health hazards – including childhood obesity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports nearly 23% of kids with disabilities are obese compared to 16% of kids without disabilities. As pediatric occupational therapists, our focus isn’t weight loss, but we do have a number of strategies and approaches to help our young patients develop healthier habits for life.

Some disabilities positively correlated with childhood obesity include:

  • Functionally Restricted Mobility
  • Developmental Delay
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Learning Disability
  • Down Syndrome
  • ADHD
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Hearing or Visual Impairment

There could be a number of reasons a person with a disability is also above average in weight. Certain conditions like autism are associated with extreme picky eating (and the foods they favor aren’t always the healthiest). Some conditions like Prader-Willi Syndrome make it difficult for the individual to recognize when they’re full. Lack of impulse control might result in overeating. For some kids, difficulty or limits on physical activity curbs the calories they can reasonably burn in a day.

Still, it’s an issue worth addressing because being overweight or obese can have a number of challenging impacts on a child’s daily life. These include:

  • Decreased endurance and capacity on the playground and in physical education
  • Too much daily screen time, leading to isolation
  • Trouble with bullying or making/keeping friends due to weigh loss bias
  • Heightened risk of mental health problems like low self-esteem, anxiety or depression
  • Poor sleep patterns, which can impact mood, energy and academic performance
  • Developing weight-related health conditions like diabetes, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, decreased joint flexibility, etc.

Our Role as Pediatric Occupational Therapists

As pediatric occupational therapists, part of our education and experience involves training in activity analysis and the consideration of people, environments, and occupations. We first become familiar with the individual and the underlying factors at issue before incorporating evidence-based strategies for healthier habits into the child’s plan of care.

We also understand that for a lot of people, food can be a deeply personal and sometimes highly sensitive topic. We collaborate closely with caregivers and other healthcare professionals to ensure our strategies work for the family – culturally, economically, and practically.

That said, our focus is almost never going to be on a child “losing weight.” Instead, what we’re aiming for is the promotion of good health and a healthy lifestyle that considers the whole child. We identify each child’s strengths – their creativity, humor, thoughtfulness, sense of adventure, etc. – and build on them when developing a plan of care that incorporates healthy habits for life.

In working closely with patients, parents, teachers, etc., we can:

  • Work with children who have sensory sensitivities to expand their healthy food options. The S.O.S. Feeding Therapy approach is one example of a program that can be used to address extreme picky eating that hinders a balanced diet.
  • Encourage designated mealtime, routines, and family participation to increase enjoyment at mealtimes.
  • Develop a doable and graduated physical engagement program (walking, bike riding, hiking, swimming, yoga, etc.) that promotes engagement with the child, family members, friends, etc. As occupational therapists, we understand the unique needs of each child, and can tailor these activities to their strengths and abilities.
  • Provide opportunities (like OT groups) for kids to meet up with others of similar ages and abilities and engage in fun physical activities.

If you have specific concerns related to your child’s health due to their eating or lifestyle habits, our Akron/Cleveland pediatric occupational therapists are happy to provide insights and brainstorm strategies.

For more information about pediatric occupational therapy, Contact Us Online or call our office (330) 748-4807. Our educational services and multidisciplinary therapy are available in Brecksville, Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron and surrounding communities.

Additional Resources:

Occupational Therapy’s Role in Mental Health Promotion, Prevention, & Intervention With Children & Youth – Childhood Obesity, AOTA

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland Feeding & Swallowing Therapy Helps Kids Thrive, Jan. 5, 2024, Cleveland Pediatric Occupational Therapists