Ditch the Fat Comments

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It's no secret that childhood obesity is a serious issue and we need to reverse this trend. The secret we haven't figured out is how to indeed make that reversal.

One thing for certain, constantly reminding your child that he or she needs to lose weight does more harm than good, according to top obesity researchers Kelly Brownell and Rebecca Puhl. In fact, even when our intentions are good and we think we are helping them with these reminders and comments, Brownell and Puhl say this leads to 'weight stigmatization'. Our kids just end up feeling bad about themselves. They can become so discouraged that they end up eating more and practice other unhealthy eating behaviors. (Incidentally this goes for adults as well).

In their recent research published in Obesity, they report that family members are the most likely to make comments about a child's weight and doctors are second. Kids themselves can really perpetuate this weight stigma in their overweight peers. When the overweight kids are teased at school during PE or sports they are less likely to participate, so they get less physical activity and the cycle continues. We need to practice sensitivity ourselves and teach our children to do so as well.

What else can we do? That is a toughie because we don't want to ignore the problem either. I often talk to parents who are perplexed about how to get their child to lose weight. The first thing I tell them is to accept their child at any weight and let them know they are loved. A child will more likely feel good about themselves if their parent accepts them. Second never put them on a diet. This inevitably backfires and this current research lends some credence to that. A couple of other tips are:

-Encourage physical activity by encouraging play
-Never use food as a reward or bribe
-Focus on increasing healthy foods rather than on diet restriction
-And be a good role model for your child! Eat and do as you want them to.

We don't have all the answers yet to reverse this epidemic but stopping this weight stigmatization and working on our sensitivity may be one (or two) of them.

(To read the research article by Brownell and Puhl click here)
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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