Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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NEWORLEANS-- Psychological challenges are enormous for overweight and obese children. They're constantly criticized and compared to normal weight children.

'One of the populations that is most at risk are preschoolers, and they basically are teased miserably, if you can believe that, a chubby 3-year-old or 4-year-old,' child obesity expert Dr. Melinda Sothern said.

It took her decades of research at LSU Health Sciences Center to write 'Safe and Effective Exercise for Overweight Youth', a first-of-its-kind guide to help teachers, doctors, parents and people who work with children.

'We know that being obese as a child is just an outward sign that something is really wrong with their muscles and their organs,' Dr. Sothern said. 'That's the scariest part.'

She said exercises have to be modified since it's harder for them, but exercise including weight lifting is crucial.

'It does change the structure of their muscles and it makes their muscles better fat burners,' Dr. Sothern said. 'It aids in their weight loss and they can do it because they're typically either lying down or sitting up when they push the weights up.'

If exercise is not fun and games, they'll learn to hate it.

'Their bodies are really designed for the short burst, which is the type of activity they'll do if they play chase, hide and seek, hop scotch or jump rope,' Dr. Sothern said.

Motivation must be positive.

So instead of saying, 'Why are you lying on the couch? It will make you as big as a house,' redirect and say, 'You know you look like you're bored. Would you like to go for a walk and talk about school? Or would you like to help me clean the house or go play with friends? Shoot hoops or ride your bike?'

By the end of three months, most children, if they follow the program in the book, will have about a 25 percent increase in fitness.

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