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An Overweight Child is a Family Affair

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An Overweight Child is a Family Affair

Aren’t genetics wonderful?  Let’s face it: if we were all the same size and shape and had the same color hair, eyes and skin, the world would be, well, boring. For new parents, the idea of genetics is even more exciting. Will it be a boy or girl?  Will she have dark or light hair, be tall or short?  There are so many ways we can turn out based on our genetic make-up, and our physical traits are only some of them. Body shape and size along with disease risk are also passed from one generation to another. While having two children with different eye colors does not require a difference in parenting style, parenting one child who loves sweets and another who hates them may require some special attention. Also, if you have one child who seems to be gaining weight faster than the other, it’s important to take action – but not directed toward your child, but rather, as a family.

For parents who have never struggled with weight control, the idea of “watching what you eat” may be foreign. When both parents can “eat whatever they want and not gain weight” it may be difficult to understand why their child is gaining too much. It may even go undetected.

As a dietitian, I remember my first family consultation in which this was the case. A very thin mother and father came into my office with their thin son, thin daughter and their youngest child, who was obviously overweight. The parents had sought help at the referral of their pediatrician, who kindly pointed out that the child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) was greater than normal. The parents were shocked to discover their child had a “weight problem,” as they referred to it. The parents wanted to know how to help her. The parents soon discovered that I was not going to teach them how to simply help her: I was going to teach them how to help their family. When one child is struggling with her weight, singling out the child as “different” or “having a problem” is the last thing that you want to do. A child’s feelings about his or her weight are often a reflection of how the parent feels about the child’s weight. Therefore, it is important to keep it positive and keep the focus on how the family is going to make healthier choices, rather than on body weight. Never single out an overweight child from the rest of the family. Everyone in the family can work together to be healthier and more physically active.

The following are a few tips to get you started:

Keep a positive attitude about food and do not go on a restrictive diet:

  • Children need foods from all of the food groups for proper growth and development.
  • It is important for kids to understand the importance of food and to enjoy all foods they like on occasion. Eating a cupcake is not bad, but how often the cupcake is eaten may be.
  • Make sure that healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are always available.

Keep the focus on being healthy and active, not on body weight:

  • Try not to discuss body weight.
  • Talk about healthy habits and teach kids about staying active.
  • Cook healthy meals together and shop for healthy foods together.
  • Take walks, dance, play tag in the backyard, hop, skip, jump – as a family.

Be supportive and inclusive of all kids:

  • Kids love to be part of the decision making process. Let each member of the family take turns picking a family fitness activity.
  • Rotate days of the week and activities. That way, if one child does not like the activity, it is ok, because the next day will be her turn to choose.
  • Use the Super Crew fitness tracker to keep tabs on your weekly activities.

Lastly, if more knowledge is needed on choosing healthy foods for the family, consider a visit to a Registered Dietitian.  Read more with nutrition expert, April Rudat on healthy eating for the whole family.

Test Your Knowledge:

  1. If one child in the family is gaining weight but the others are not, you should:
  • Restrict the amount of calories that child eats
  • Restrict the amount of calories the entire family eats
  • Encourage healthier choices and increase family physical activity

answer c
2.  To make sure that a child is not singled out from the rest of the family:

  • Have all children participate in selecting family activities
  • Have only the overweight child select activities that he/she likes
  • Have only the adults select the activities

 answer a

 


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About the Author

Heather is a registered dietitian and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics and holds a master degree in Wellness and Human Performance. She is the owner of Nutrition CheckUp, a private consulting practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania specializing in sports nutrition, weight management, wellness and nutrition communications. She is the proud mom of three children and enjoys running, traveling, visiting new restaurants and great wine.

Website: http://www.nutritioncheckup.com


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