I often have parents, who are concerned about their child’s weight, ask me how to address this with their child. This is a great question given the health consequences and social stigma of obesity. And according to the CDC, approximately 17% of children in the US between the ages of 2-19 are obese.
So, how do we address obesity and weight with our children? Actually, the most effective way is by not focusing on weight at all. What?!…I am sure you are saying. Let me explain.
Research has shown that when parents focus on and make comments about their children’s weight (such as, “You’re looking heavy” or “Should you really eat that?”) a greater occurrence of obesity arises. And talk of diet can lead to greater rates of low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders.
Why is this? Focusing on weight and poor eating habits or lack of exercise can lead to shame, guilt, and a negative self-image, which leads to a vicious cycle. So, what can you do?
More effective than focusing on weight or size is focusing on health. Have discussions about healthy eating and exercise, just as you would discussions about safe sexual practices or not texting while driving. These discussions should not be a “big talk.” Rather, they should be part of day-to-day discourse.
It is also more effective to focus on family health rather than on singling out any one individual, particularly your child. If your child feels singled out, this can lead them to feel that something is “wrong” with them or that they are the “problem.” Make sure to cook healthy family dinners, at least most of the time. Use family time to encourage exercise, such as going for a walk after dinner or taking a weekend bike ride. And be cognizant about how you talk about your own body, size, or weight.
Encourage stress management, coping skills, and mindfulness. Too often obesity is related to an unhealthy relationship with food. We eat when we are sad, or frustrated, or bored. Teach your children other ways to manage stress such as listening to music, meditation, or through physical activity or other means.
So when I say that the answer is not talking about your child’s weight, I am not saying to ignore the issue. Rather, I am saying to approach the issue from a different angle. And enlist the help of your pediatrician or a nutritionist or counselor when necessary.
“Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not!” – Unknown