Talking to kids about their weight

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Development/Milestones: Babies, That's Entertainment

Writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Dr. Benjamin Brewer offered some tips for talking to kids about their weight problems. He began by noting that about one of every four kids he saw was overweight and probably one in 10 was severely obese. By that, he meant they were on the verge of health problems like high blood sugar or higher-than-normal blood pressure. It's bad news for their self esteem and daily happiness as well as their health, present and future.

Talking with kids and parents about weight is not an easy conversation to have. Dr. Brewer said he found that patients respond better when we talk about their "weight" or "excess weight" rather than labeling them obese. Telling a parent that their child is obese, although technically accurate and visibly apparent, will sometimes provoke the same reaction as telling someone they have an ugly baby. He offered the following suggestions:

1. With children and adolescents, don't emphasize the long term-health consequences of excess weight like you might do with adults. Adults are actually frightened by diseases. Children and teenagers aren't. They think short term; thus, talk about the concerns they have about their weight and suggest changes in behavior and healthy food choices.

2. The biggest culprits of weight problems are screen time -- television for younger kids as well as video games and the Internet for older kids -- and eating high-fat processed foods. The double whammy is snacking on junk while watching television.

3. Try to get parents to commit to a small change like playing together as a family for 30 minutes a day or switching to water instead of soft drinks. Eliminate the habit of eating snacks in front of the TV.

4. Time to discuss these potentially involved issues is tight in the context of a routine school physical, but attempt to get your child or adolescent to follow the standard suggestions of limiting sugar, fat, junk food, and soft drinks. It sounds easy to recommend five fruits and vegetables per day, an hour of physical activity per day, less than two hours of TV or computer time per day and family time spent exercising, but it's tough to get children (and adults) to actually do those things.

5. One group of patients seems to experience far fewer issues with weight. These are families that don't generally watch popular TV or spend a lot of time at the computer. They tend to do a lot of family activities, avoid fast food and have far fewer problems with obesity.

If you are concerned about weight gain in your child, you might try to follow these simple suggestions.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.