Posted Monday, April 16, 2012
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent national obesity trend research has found that approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents aged two to 19 years old are obese, which is roughly 17 percent of the country’s youth. Based on this research, the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center is offering tips on how parents can help their children who are overweight.
“This alarming obesity trend among children was placed in the national spotlight recently, when a writer for Vogue magazine detailed the year-long diet she placed her 7-year-old daughter on after being told her child was obese,” said Elissa Jelalian, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center. Dr. Jelalian’s current research involves the establishment of a registry to document the accomplishments of successful teen weight losers and conducting an intervention for teens who struggle with depression and weight concerns.
“Many parents are now debating whether diets are appropriate for children, and whether the word ‘diet’ should even be used when referring to children’s eating habits,” said Jelalian. “Addressing weight concerns in a child can be quite challenging for many parents, but it can be done without the stigma of placing your child on a ‘diet,’ a term that can negatively impact children.”
“As parents, we have our own histories with weight and our own more or less complicated relationships with food and eating,” says Jelalian. “It is important to recognize and work with these in order to effectively help our children. Often times, weight management is not a one-time diet attempt, but rather an ongoing effort throughout adulthood.”
Whatever effort is made, it is most important to accept a child for who she or he is regardless of weight. While this seems simple, it can be difficult. “We live in a society that clearly values certain weight ideals, and these biases are apparent from a very young age -- as early as five,” says Jelalian. “In this context, it’s easy to unintentionally provide messages about the values associated with achieving a particular weight. For example, a parent who makes an offhand comment about how a particular pair of pants makes her ‘look fat’ is inadvertently sending a message about what she values.”
Jelalian adds that there are circumstances in which a decrease in body mass index (BMI) may be recommended for children even younger than seven years old. However, because children are continuing to grow, individual recommendations need to take into account both a child's height and weight, as he or she may enter a healthy weight category by simply maintaining the same weight and eventually growing taller.
If a child’s BMI does indicate the need for some weight loss, efforts should always be made in connection with a health care professional or program, and must be a family effort. “A successful weight loss endeavor for children focuses on making changes at a family level, setting up the home environment to maximize the likelihood of making healthy choices, and trying to engage children’s extended social networks in providing support rather than targeting a child,” says Jelalian.
Dr. Jelalian offers the following advice for parents:
Always consult a health care professional before starting a weight management regimen with your child.
Don’t tell your child that you are placing him or her on a “diet.” Children learn by example. Start by serving healthier foods in appropriate portions, encouraging physical activity, and promoting a healthier lifestyle overall, and they will catch on.
Don’t make it a one-time effort to lose weight, but rather an ongoing lifestyle change that can last into adulthood.
Never single out a child alone for weight management. The entire family needs to commit to eating right and attaining a healthy lifestyle together.
Don’t focus on “bad foods” that your child should avoid. Keep things positive and encourage them to eat the right amount of “good foods.” And don’t keep “junk food” in the house.
While limiting high calorie and low nutrient dense foods is key, it is ok to occasionally include these foods. Consider the “We Can!” program from NHLBI (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/index.htm), that categorizes foods as “GO”, “SLOW”, and “WHOA.”
Praise your child for the things he or she does that are healthy, rather than focusing on negative activities, or things that will make them “fat.”
No matter what your child weighs, try to accept him or her for the beautiful and special child that he or she is – and make sure your children know you love them no matter what they look like.
If you need help talking to your child about healthy weight management, call The Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center at 401-793-8993.
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