How To Help An Overweight Child
Obesity is defined as weighing 20% over "normal" weight. The health issues associated with obesity are well-documented: risk for joint and back problems, and more seriously, diabetes, heart conditions and strokes.
Childhood obesityis especially troubling, as it sets up a potential for those health issues from a young age. The National Institutes of Health reported results of a study (documented in the Journal Pediatrics in 2006) that shows the tendency of someone who is obese in early childhood to continue staying that way into adolescence and adulthood.
Too many parents of overweight children stay quiet, hoping that the issue will sort itself out. While a child may have a growth spurt or suddenly shed "baby fat", they probably won't lose the extra weight naturally.
Ignoring any problem is a sure way to prolong it, and in this case that could have life-threatening consequences. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to provide your child with help and support now to eat better and become more active. That will plant seeds for a lifetime of healthier living!
If you think your child is struggling with extra weight, schedule a visit to your pediatrician. It will only take a few minutes to get weight and height measurements. Then you can see for sure how your child's results compare to the norms for his or her age. Ask for a recommendation for a weight loss goal.
Do some detective work and find out about if family genes may be playing a part in the situation. How does your child's physical development compare with yours or your spouse's? Do most family members have a larger frame or a body type that naturally carries extra weight?
After gathering all the information you need, devise an action plan. Think about changes you can make right away to start turning things around. Introducing new ideas gently and one at a time. Remember, even the smallest tweaks during the day will eventually add up to impressive results.
How To Talk With Children About Weight
With younger children - If the child is still in grade school, they are too young to have a full conversation with you about weight. You can make changes in their diet and activity level for them. They may ask questions about what you're doing. Give them simple answers to help them learn about good choices.
With older children and teens - It's normal for young people to feel self-conscious and awkward as they grow and develop. And if they are a little heavier than some of their friends that feeling only intensifies, especially when any teasing comes their way.
Chances are your children are already aware of their weight, whether on their own or having it pointed out to them by others. The key is to create an inviting and safe environment for sharing and learning. If possible, find a relaxed, natural time to touch on the subject. And make the focus of your concerns health rather than on appearance.
Let your child share any feelings or frustrations, and listen. Avoid making any comments right away, but instead ask questions for deeper understanding. Knowing that you care gives a child encouragement and builds trust.
Choose Your Language Carefully
Be careful of the message you are sending your child. Rather than pointing out the negative, give positive reasons for living a healthier lifestyle. And before you say a word, look at your motivation for addressing the issue. Your child's health, not impressing anyone else or realizing your own dreams, is the right one.
No matter how good your message is, you need to deliver it helpfully and hopefully. Avoid using these tactics:
- Fear - "you'll get really sick if you don't lose weight…"
- Anger - "why won't you listen to me!?..."
- Shame - "I can't believe you're eating so much…"
- Manipulation - "when you lose weight I'll buy you…"
- Blame - "you have no willpower…"
Note: Also, don't label foods as 'good' or 'bad'. A food that is seen as forbidden will almost assuredly become a temptation for your child.
Engage Children In The Process
Children of all ages want to feel included and important. An giving your child an active role in making healthy changes teaches them important decision-making skills.
Ways to include children:
Ask what your child's favorite fruits and vegetables are, then Include the responses in planning for future menus.
Have your child help you pick out fresh produce in the store. It's a fun way for little ones to learn colors. You can teach elementary school-age and older kids how to check for ripeness.
Show children how foods they like go together to make good meals. For instance, chicken nuggets + apple slices + milk = a yummy and healthy lunch!
If you like to cook or bake, enlist kids' help in the kitchen. Make sure that the chore is age appropriate: a young child could stir ingredients together while an older one could measure those ingredients out.
Some Easy Substitutions
fruit juice or soda
plain or naturally-flavored water
8 oz sugar free lemonade
10 low salt organic corn chips
12 unsalted pretzels
1/2 cup low fat chocolate pudding
1 cup low fat chocolate milk
1 cup Multigrain Cheerios
3/4 cup granola
Do...set the example. Children really do watch what their parents do and usually end up copying them. We need to practice what we preach!
Do…insist on breakfast every day. Skipping the first meal leads to hunger and a tendency to overeat later in the day. For busy mornings, granola bars (at least 4% fiber content), yogurt, fruit and wheat mini bagels help you all get ready to go fast.
Do…have family dinners as many nights during the week as possible. It's an important time for bonding and a chance to provide a healthy meal. Even pizza can be a "good" meal if you start with pre-made crust (Boboli makes delicious wheat and thin white crusts) and add veggies on top along with sauce and cheese. With a little guidance, that's a fun meal kids can make!
Do…get moving yourself. That will show your child how important you think it is, which will have impact. Plus, you'll feel better physically, and your new energy and outlook will be contagious!
Resources For More Information
My Overweight Child (www.myoverweightchild.com): Articles by experts on a wide range of aspects, insights specifically for kids, plus a blog for parents.
WebMD (www.webmd.com): Nutritionists and pediatricians provide clear and comprehensive information about health issues for children and teens.
Choose My Plate (www.choosemyplate.gov): dietary and physical activity guidelines for children that parents, teachers and administrators can use.