The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades. Obese children carry a higher risk than children of normal weight for: cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and low self-esteem. Obese children are also more likely to grow up to be overweight or obese adults, and therefore more likely to fall victim to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
The statistics are difficult to hear, but even more difficult to deal with if you're a parent concerned about your child's health. You want to help, but you're not sure how. You want to talk to your child about it, but you're afraid of saying the wrong thing. Your child's future, health, and wellness are in jeopardy--how do you turn it all around?
The Challenge for Parents
Studies show that parents of obese children four to five years old are often unaware that their child's weight is a problem. As children grow older, most parents feel a mixture of guilt, responsibility, and helplessness. They may feel attacked by other family members, neighbors, and acquaintances who seem to blame them, and they often feel the pain their children go through as victims of teasing and ridicule in school.
Most parents make efforts to help their children, but may give up when those efforts prove unsuccessful. The relationship between parents and children can become strained as the issue grows larger, particularly if parents try to restrict certain types of foods or implement other controlling methods in efforts to curb behavior. The whole issue seems likes a minefield where it's much too easy to take a wrong step. Fortunately, studies have found that reversing childhood obesity is possible--it's just a matter of making a few key lifestyle changes.
Diet, Exercise, and Positive Reinforcement
The most important elements in helping a child to attain a normal weight revolve around diet, activity, and emotional support. This isn't news to most parents. The challenge lies in figuring out just how to change lifestyle habits without getting into arguments and damaging a child's self esteem. Here are some tips from the experts:
- Accept your child just as he or she is. Psychologists say this is the most important thing you can do. Otherwise, he or she will feel direct or implied disapproval which could undermine all your other attempts.
- Try not to make his or her weight a big deal by engaging in lots of serious discussions or lectures. Instead, begin incorporating changes into your family's daily activities as naturally as possible.
- Realize you have more control than you think. Commit yourself to making small changes over time rather than large ones all at once.
Family Changes Mean Healthier Kids
Tackling childhood obesity is a family affair. Everyone will benefit from healthier habits, so rather than focus on just one member, get everyone involved. Here's how:
- Lead by example. Studies show one of the most important things you can do is to model healthy behavior. If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, you must eat more fruits and vegetables. If you want your child to exercise more, you must exercise more. Talk to your child about your new habits and invite him to join you.
- Turn off the television. Studies show inactivity is the most significant factor in childhood obesity. You may say that your child doesn't want to do anything but watch TV or play video games, but try inviting her to do something with you, like take a bike ride, a trip to the park, a walk around town, or a game of catch. Start small--30 minutes a day--then ask your kids for their ideas on how they'd like to get moving.
- Shop healthier. Help your child develop a better relationship with food by taking him or her grocery shopping. Let your child decide which fruits and vegetables will make the weekly menu.
- Make meals a priority. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight than those who don't. Similarly, families who eat a healthy dinner together are more likely to teach healthy eating habits. Keep meals at regular times to avoid unhealthy snacking.
- Get help. If after a few months you don't see your child making progress, you may want to consider getting help from a dietician, psychologist, or even a weight-control program. New ideas and trained experts may be just what your child needs to turn his or her health--and life--around.