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Help kids lose weight, not self esteem October 5, 2007

Posted by 4fitkids in PAC.

Help kids lose weight, not self esteem

It’s bad enough when school bullies tease overweight kids.


Now, newspapers and television are jumping on the name-calling bandwagon. You are fat, the reports say. And your kids are too.

We know, we know. Our kids are not just “big-boned,” they are overweight, and at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma and social discrimination that can lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

How can we help our kids lose pounds and inches without giving them a complex at the same time?

Get the whole family involved, say experts at Baylor College of Medicine studying obesity and children.

“In order to prevent obesity, we also have to deal with family behavior,” said Craig Johnston, PhD, a pediatric psychology fellow at BCM. “Rather than saying ‘you have a problem and you need to do something about it,’ the focus should be that ‘we have a problem and the whole family should do something about it.'”

Feed self esteem
An increasing number of American children are struggling with their weight. Experts estimate that more than 15 percent of children and adolescents fall into the obesity category. Yet at the same time, the pressure to be thin remains high. Images of skinny pop stars and teen idols pervade movies, television and magazines. While it is tempting to blame the media for saddling children with unrealistic images of proper weight, parents have more influence on their children than they think.

“A family helps mold a child’s self esteem from birth and therefore his or her body image,” says Carolyn Cochrane, PhD, director of eating disorders programs at The Menninger Clinic and assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at BCM. “It is not an accident that if you try to improve self-esteem, body image will improve and vice-versa.”

Being a healthy role model to your children is a good way to start, Cochrane says. Often, the parent of an overweight child is also overweight. When the whole family works toward living healthier, the overweight child is not singled out. The family becomes healthier in many ways, not just weight.

If you come from a family that has a history of obesity, teach your children early that they may be more likely to gain weight more easily. Teasing your children about their weight, even good naturedly, is a “huge no-no,” Cochrane says.

“Remember, kids pick up the negative connotation that most of society has about weight.”

Children who have positive body images are less at risk for developing eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

FLOW prevention study

For more information on the FLOW prevention study, call 713-798-5769.

Families in the participation arm of the study will receive a free YMCA membership for the duration of the trial.

Work together
Family participation is a key ingredient in a new clinical trial at BCM, called the Family Lifestyle Overweight Prevention Program or FLOW, researching the best methods to prevent obesity in kids aged 10 to 15. One third of the 100 children in the trial will receive information about nutrition and exercise, and a week-by-week obesity prevention plan for 12 weeks. The rest will attend sessions that include nutrition education, and exercise weekly for 12 weeks at a participating YMCA. Parents in the second group must participate in the sessions and exercise. The study will follow participants for a year.

“We are asking for quite a commitment from parents and some significant lifestyle changes on their part,” Johnston says. “We tell them, ‘It is not fair to eat McDonalds while saying your child can’t. It is not fair to say your child needs to be physically active, while you aren’t.'”

Making small, continuous changes over time will help make the transition to a healthier, more active lifestyle less painful. Rather than suddenly declaring the kitchen off-limits, ease your family into a healthier lifestyle. Start stocking your refrigerator with healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables. Do not keep sweets and chips in the pantry while telling your children that they are not allowed to eat them.

Let your family know that you are making the change, so they won’t be shocked when they find carrot sticks in the refrigerator instead of candy bars.

“Kids are smart,” says Joan Carter, a registered dietician with the USDA’s Children’s Nutrition Research Center at BCM. “Don’t focus on the child’s weight but say something like, ‘I think we could be eating healthier.'”

Exercise plays a part
Exercising as a family should also be a prominent part of a family’s healthy living plan. Exercise burns calories, increases strength and flexibility and reduces stress. As a bonus, it makes you feel good.

You don’t have to run a marathon, or go to the gym to be physically active. A simple walk around the block, or a game of catch, will help you work up a sweat, and build stronger bonds with children.

“As a family, plan weekends around some form of physical activity as part of a routine,” Carter says. “Saturdays could always be set aside for a walk between mother and daughter, or a family hike. When you exercise as a family, you are feeding social development as well as the body.”

Don’t be a food “control freak”
You may want your child to eat her broccoli, but don’t force her, say experts. Being too controlling about the food your child eats can backfire.

“When the parent takes an authoritative style toward feeding, it becomes a control problem between the parent and the child,” Carter says. Instead of insisting on what and how much your child eats, “parents should decide what food is in the house and what is served at meals. Children should decide how much they want to eat.”

When you serve meals “family style,” your child can dish out exactly the amount of food he or she wants. If you serve their plates yourself, children are likely to eat more than satisfies their hunger because there is more on their plate.

Healthy foods like lean meats, whole grains and fruits and vegetables should be staples in your family’s diet. If you routinely eat right, however, your family can eat outside those lines on occasion.

It may be hard to cut out junk food cold turkey, so one approach is to “downsize,” your consumption, says Carter. “Buy just one case of soda, or one bag of chips, and tell your kids, ‘when it is gone it is gone. We’ll buy more next week.’ What you don’t want is to have food in the house and then to tell kids they can’t have it. It will make them crazy.”

Healthy kids, healthy future
Struggles with weight can affect a child’s self esteem for the rest of his or her life, or it may have little effect, depending on how others around them view obesity. Cochrane recalls a patient who weighed 480 pounds, until he had gastric bypass surgery and lost 150 pounds. His friends never made fun of him and supported him. Today he is managing his weight and living a healthier life.

“I’ve also seen many women, especially white women, whose childhood obesity and difficult surroundings defined their lives,” Cochrane said. “There are women who think that if they lose weight and keep it off, their lives will be perfect. These women look for happiness in all the wrong places.”

Nutrition and eating disorder experts agree that a positive, family-based approach works best to prevent excess weight gain and develop a healthy body image. Making changes to your family’s lifestyle will be hard work, but your efforts will result in a happier healthier child.



1. www.topweightlosssecrets.info » Help kids lose weight, not self esteem - October 14, 2007

[…] 4fitkids wrote a fantastic post today on “Help kids lose weight, not self esteem”Here’s ONLY a quick extractHow can we help our kids lose pounds and inches without giving them a complex at the same time? Get the whole family involved, say experts at Baylor College of Medicine studying obesity and children. “In order to prevent obesity, … […]

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