According to government statistics, 15 percent (9 million) of children between the ages of 6-19 were overweight in 2000. Until recently, most of the attention about overweight has been on adults; all of the popular weight loss plans are geared to adults. But now doctors are warning parents that childhood obesity and overweight are serious concerns that can lead to health problems later in life. Obesity is a devastating problem in the United States. Recent estimates suggest that diseases related to obesity result in over $100 billion in health care costs annually.

Some parents may take a wait-and-see approach, hoping that their child will "outgrow" overweight. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. In fact, studies show that an overweight child has an 80 percent chance of becoming an overweight or obese adult.

The contributing factors to the overweight epidemic in children are complex, but most experts agree on the bottom line: children are eating too much and not exercising enough. Knowing the cause won't necessarily help change things, however. Eating habits develop over years, are often hard to change, and parents themselves often struggle with the same weight issues as their children. It becomes a "do-as-I-say-and-not-as-Ido" argument unless parents and children all work together.

Once a child reaches adolescence, the parent has less influence and control. It is much easier to address overweight in a young child. Regardless of your child's age, if your child is overweight, there are some steps you can take:

Limit television

Most children watch about 4 hours of TV each day. Have your child choose his or her favorite shows, and limit TV watching to these times.

Exercise with your child

Regular (daily if possible) walks are a great way to spend time together and burn calories at the same time.

Limit junk food and soda

Sugar sweetened soda consumption is one of the primary causes of overweight in both children and adults.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Studies show that children and adolescents will choose healthy food if it is available. Keep cut up vegetables on hand in the refrigerator and serve with a low fat dip.

Monitor the school lunch

Work with your child's school to see that healthy foods and beverages are offered. Many school departments are beginning to limit soda sales in response to concerns from health authorities and parents.

Avoid "food fights" with your child

Offer positive reinforcement when healthy choices are made. Being a good example is often the best way to help your child make any behavior change, but if you feel you aren't making progress, check with your child's pediatrician. Early intervention is crucial to avoid a lifetime struggle with health issues caused by overweight and obesity.