Kid-friendly weight loss program

July 14, 2009 10:41:23 AM PDT
Getting children to eat healthy is a challenge. Even more difficult is getting overweight kids to shed those extra pounds. But there is a simple, kid-friendly program designed to help them think about the food they are eating. The system uses colors, specifically the red, yellow and green of a traffic light. Parents and kids focus on how many foods of each color they can eat, not on calories. "The green light foods are the healthiest foods, the yellow foods are in the middle and the red light foods are the least healthy foods," said child weight specialist Dr. Joanna Dolgoff.

And studies show a color system is the best way to understand foods. For example, a bagel is a red light, as it's high in calories and has little fiber. A better choice would be reduced calorie whole wheat bread, which is higher in fiber.

When it comes to snacks, fresh fruit would get a green light. And with the color system, a red light food could be swapped for three or four green ones.

Nine-year-old Perry Kleeman lost 25 pounds using this system, and has learned not to overdo it on cake and ice cream at parties.

"I eat some of it, not most of it," Kleeman said. "I just take a few bites and throw the rest away."

Ten-year-old Jackie DeTurris lost 28 pounds in eight months.

"Sometimes I still say to my self, 'Wow, I can run and I don't get tired anymore,'" Jackie said.

Perry's dad says that he's lost a few pounds following the program, learning calorie watching by following the red, yellow and green light foods. Dr. Dolgoff says that parents definitely should talk to their kids about being overweight, as long as it's done sensitively, talking about what we should do rather than what you should do.

The Stoplight Diet (also called the Traffic Light Diet) was developed by Leonard H. Epstein and colleagues at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the 1980s.

"Stoplight Diet for Children: An Eight-Week Program for Parents and Children," by Leonard H. Epstein and Sally Squires describes the technique. It was published by Little, Brown and Co. in 1988.

For more information on the program, visit Click on table 2 for a list of color-coded foods.