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How to Talk to Your Child About Losing Weight
If your child is overweight, it's not easy to tell him he needs to lose weight -- but doing so could save his life.
By Amir Khan
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THURSDAY, Oct. 31, 2013 —Childhood obesity remains a pressing public health issue in the United States, but it’s not always easy to talk to your children about their weight. And while experts urge parents not to sugarcoat the problem, they say there are some major “dos” and “don’ts” when you try to encourage your child to lose weight.
A woman in West Fargo, N.D., took it upon herself yesterday to tell the parents and children in her town that she wasn’t going to hand out candy to children she considers obese, adding that it takes a village to raise a child.
“You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season,” Cheryl, whose last name was not given, wrote in the note that she is handing out to children she considers obese, according to radio station WRIG.
But while some people, such as Cheryl, are fans of tough love, Keith Ayoob, MD, associate clinical professor of pediatrics and director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y., said that’s not the proper way to approach the subject with children.
“Tough love isn’t the best idea, especially if you’re doing it with a teenager,” Dr. Ayoob said. “It should be about what we need to do to be better.”
Parents need to be sensitive to their child’s self-image, Ayoob said, and should be sure to focus on the right aspects of weight loss.
“It needs to always be about a health issue, not a cosmetic one,” he said. “It’s very easy for parents to tell children to weigh less so that they look better, but the conversation can’t be about that.”
Parents need to be open about their concerns for their child, said Elizabeth Click, RN, an assistant professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, but also listen to what their child has to say as well.
“Parents need to feel comfortable discussing weight with their children given the significant issues many people have with weight,” Click said. “Having an open conversation about the child's perceptions and feelings is important.”
The best way to go about initiating the conversation is to have their doctor do it, Ayoob said, so that it stays a medical issue, rather than a cosmetic one. However, the conversation is the just the beginning of the journey, and parents have to remain supportive throughout.
“It’s an opportunity for parents to also take a look at their own eating habits and their own lifestyle,” Ayoob said. “When parents join in, it becomes not a matter of what you have to do better, but what we have to do better.”
Click agreed, adding that children look up to their parents to set an example.
“Role modeling an active lifestyle and maintaining healthy food choices at home is important,” she said. “Emphasizing the ability that each of us has to manage what we eat and how much physical activity we get each day makes a difference.”
Serving the whole family healthy meals will go a long way towards helping your child see their diet as a lifestyle change, not a punishment, Ayoob said.
“Kids aren’t going to eat a better diet than their parents,” he said. “If the child is eating a poor diet or is eating too much, often times, the parents are as well.”
However, it’s important to not deprive the child of foods they like, Ayoob added, because they will never stick to the diet otherwise.
“Start with what works and emphasize healthy foods that they already like, such as fruits,” he said. “Make that the default snack or dessert, but reassure the child that they’re still going to be able to eat everything they want, but the question is just how much and how often.”
And ultimately, Ayoob said, your child’s success hinges on your support throughout the whole process. Don’t let them get frustrated, and you can help them live a long, healthy life.
“The important thing is to emphasize that they’re not going to get there overnight,” he said.
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