Do's and Don'ts for Parents of Overweight Children
An incredible 30 percent of American children are either overweight or obese. They have an 85 percent chance of becoming overweight adults, putting them at risk for heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, knee and joint problems, and a life span shortened by as much as 14 years. The impact of weight on kids and teens can be overwhelming.
Much new research now centers on how best to help overweight children stop gaining weight and to encourage teen weight loss among older ones. This list of do's and don'ts for parents of overweight children is based on those studies.
DON'T ignore your child's weight problem. A Harvard University study of over 11,000 children found that 85 percent of overweight children remained that way from year to year and went on to become overweight adults. Help your child today - don't put it off.
DO eat family meals together regularly. Study after study has linked regular family meals to a variety of positive outcomes, including less risk for teen drug abuse, lowered age for first sexual experience, and higher SAT scores. A report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that girls who ate regular meals with their parents developed fewer eating disorders and weight problems.
DON'T encourage your child to diet in order to lose weight. A study from the University of Minnesota compared parents who encouraged their children to diet and those who did not. After five years, children encouraged to diet were more likely to remain overweight than those whose parents did not encourage it. The percentages were 75 percent compared to 52 percent among boys, and 66 percent compared to 44 percent among girls. A major study from the University of Western Sydney in Australia concluded that dieting itself may be partly to blame for why people are overweight, noting that overweight people are the ones who engage in "disordered eating" as well as starvation diets, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting.
DO encourage your child to eat in healthy ways by becoming a good role model. Research from Washington University in St. Louis found that preschoolers imitate their parents' food choices, and the best way to teach little ones to eat healthy foods was to have the parents do it first.
DON'T tease your child about his or her weight. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that teasing children about their weight puts them at risk for extreme weight control methods, such as vomiting or taking diet pills, when they become teenagers. One report in the Journal of Obesity found that teasing by family members significantly lowered an overweight child's self-esteem, more so than any other factor.
DO limit the number of hours your child spends in front of "screens." Watching television and movies, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and texting can take more than 45 hours a week for the average teenager, according to the National Institutes of Health. Spending so many hours "screening" is linked to overweight and hypertension in children.
DON'T send your child to fat camps that focus exclusively on weight loss rather than lifestyle change. Your child will lose weight at fat camp, but once he comes home, the chances are that all weight lost will return, plus a few extra pounds. This will only make your child feel worse. If you're looking at weight loss summer camps or weight loss boarding schools for your child, choose one that is based on science and concrete research, emphasizes long-term lifestyle change, and incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy. These programs offer young people a wonderful opportunity to become part of a community away from home while learning to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
DO consider children's weight loss camps that emphasize fitness and family involvement. Dr. Kelly Lowery, writing in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, advises parents to avoid "practitioners who emphasize weight status change. A larger emphasis should be placed on goal achievement for healthy eating and physical activity habits." In other words, an effective weight loss camp retrains overweight children to eat in healthy ways and to get more exercise, and later involves family members in helping the child maintain these changes permanently.
DON'T criticize your daughter's weight if you are a dad. A study from Stanford University found that a father's attitudes and comments about his little girl's weight can put her at risk for developing eating disorders in adolescence.
DO encourage your child to get more sleep. A study from Northwestern University found that getting more sleep, even as little as an extra hour a day, decreases children's risk of being overweight. Other research linked poor sleeping habits to being overweight. Scientists are unsure whether lack of exercise makes children gain weight and sleep less or if lack of sleep negatively affects the hormones that regulate appetite.