Based on a recent study issued from the American Academy of Pediatrics, childhood obesity is once again on the rise. Today, about one in three American children and teens are either overweight or obese (source: American Heart Association). Per the researchers, “The past 18 years have seen increases in the levels of severe obesity in all ages and populations despite increased attention and efforts across numerous domains of public health and individual care.”
With the increase of childhood obesity, we are putting another generation at risk to negative health consequences and several diseases associated with obesity, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, asthma, hypertension, high total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, low HDL cholesterol levels in the blood, sleep apnea, early puberty, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty infiltration and inflammation of the liver) and 13 different types of obesity-related cancers (CDC Research on Link Between Cancer and Obesity). On top of these physical ailments, there is an increased risk of negative psychological outcomes, such as depression, poor body image, low self-esteem, eating disorders and behavioral/learning problems.
Due to the increased health care costs associated with obesity, we run the risk of bankrupting our health care system. So, what can we do to help reverse these trends associated with children who are overweight or obese?
Below are a few suggestions based on techniques our health coaches have used with teenagers.
Discussing Childhood Obesity and Healthy Weight With a Child – What NOT To Do
- Equating body image with social acceptance – Though meant in love, do not state that a child would be happier if they just lost some weight. Social acceptance is usually much more complex than just how we look on the outside. Our coaches help many adults understand that the pains they experienced at a heavier weight are still there at their lighter weight. Lighter weight alone does not equal happiness.
- Hiding food – Do not hide food in the house or avoid eating unhealthy foods around your child. A child who is obese may also be dealing with some level of isolation. By hiding certain foods in the house, you are further isolating your child. If the food or drink should be avoided, consider not allowing the food or drink into the house.
- Make excuses for being overweight – Simply put, obesity is chronically consuming more calories than you burn. People are not genetically pre-disposed, even though you and your parents may have struggled with weight. Also, children do not typically just grow out of it. A child’s environment will have a much higher impact on whether your child is overweight or not. By making excuses for a child’s weight challenge, you are taking away the power of change in their life. Change becomes really difficult if you think that you are genetically pre-disposed to something.
- Food as emotional comfort – As a parent, it is so tempting to stop a child’s tears by offering food. However, every time we do this, we are developing self-medicating patterns around emotions. These patterns do not allow us to understand and deal with the fact that life sometimes hurt and it is ok. Processing these emotions and moving through them is some of the most fundamental aspects of living a fulfilling life. Don’t short circuit the learning through self-medication.
Discussing Childhood Obesity and Health Weight With a Child – What To Do
- Focus on your own eating habits first. – Like the 80’s drug commercial where the child screams at the Dad, “I learned it from you!”, unfortunately, parents who struggle with their own weight are 80% more likely to have children who also struggle with their weight. If you want your child to start down the journey towards a healthier lifestyle, you need to lead the way.
- Understand why a child may want to lose weight – Don’t get into a conversation with your child with the hope of convincing them on the merits of weight loss. Sit down with your child and genuinely try to understand why they may be interested in weight loss. Most of the time they may realize they have a weight-related challenge, but just do not know how to get themselves out of the situation. Try to identify a sport or club that may help them become less sedentary.
- Arrange your house and set some rules for success – Research has shown that our house set up and the house rules as it relates to food keeps the weight off.
- Here are a few simple rules you may find useful.
- Re-arrange your fridge so that the healthier foods (vegetables, fruits, low fat milk and yogurts, etc) are at eye level whereas the less healthier foods (processed snacks, soda, puddings, etc) are down at the bottom of the fridge or even, if available, found in a different fridge in the house.
- Enforce a strict policy of only eating in the kitchen and without distraction (smartphone, TV, video game, etc).
- Keep fruits and vegetables out on the counter cut and ready to eat while storing the less healthier snacks high and away from the children and, for that matter, the adults.
- Here are a few simple rules you may find useful.
Childhood obesity is one of the biggest issues facing our country. Whether you are looking at it from a strict expense standpoint to the healthcare system to an overall life satisfaction, childhood obesity most of the time becomes adult obesity. Remember to walk the fine line of helping them achieve a healthy lifestyle while not destroying their body image in the process.
Lastly, sometimes it makes sense to bring in an objective professional. Consider hiring a health coach. A health coach understands the science behind lifestyle change as it relates to your child’s emotional, physical and nutritional well being. The journey towards a healthier lifestyle you want for your child will also have to be one that you will need to travel, as well.
For more information, check out Erin’s story. Erin is the mother of a young man we were able to help transform his lifestyle.