Should overweight children go on diets?

Children's hospital class for obese children
A child sits on the gym floor during the Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children on November 13, 2010 in Aurora, Colorado. The 10-week family-centered program held by the Denver area Children's Hospital teaches youth and their parents ways to lead a healthier more active lifestyle, as a longer lasting weight-loss alternative to dieting.
Getty Images/John Moore

When socialite Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote an essay in Vogue about putting her 7-year-old obese daughter on a diet, it set off a whirlwind of controversy. Some attacked her for being cruel, while some defended her actions. This led us to ask: "What can parents do if their child is overweight?"

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2008.

Opinions vary on how best to handle a young child's weight problem. Is a structured diet the way to go, or might that negatively influence a child's life-long relationship with food? Should you wait until your child is older to address the problem, or is that too late?

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, will join The Daily Circuit Wednesday as we look at the nutritional, medical and psychological aspects of childhood obesity.

"The social climate and our toxic food environment is so disastrous that more and more people are having trouble resisting it," Brownwell said. "That's really what's explaining the high prevalence of obesity. So it's unfair to put people in an environment where weight gain is a very strong possibility and then to blame them for having the problem."

Suzanne Rostler, lead nutritionist in the Optimal Weight for Life clinic at Children's Hospital Boston, will also join the discussion.

"From a parenting perspective, it's about keeping a safe food environment, keeping junk food out of the house, and having the whole family eat the same way," she said. "It's important that a child not feel punished. It's an effort to keep the whole family healthy."

VIDEO: Brownwell on weight bias at home and school