Your child’s weight: a positive approach
Around a third of UK children are overweight – one of the highest rates in Europe. At least one primary school child in every seven is now classed as obese and a recent study claimed that almost half of all British children will be dangerously overweight by 2050. Increasing rates of childhood obesity also factor in the rising incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure among children.
What lies behind child obesity? Our diet is notoriously bad for starters.
Children who spend their evenings in front of the TV aren’t only missing out on the exercise that could help them keep off the pounds – they’re also indulging in mindless snacking and constantly tempted by commercials for junk food.
To male matters worse, many schools offer no opportunities for physical education on a daily basis.
If your child is overweight, how best can you approach the problem without harming her fragile self-esteem and sending the signal that her worth depends on her looks?
• Don’t be critical
Criticising your child’s weight is unlikely to encourage her to give up the bad in favour of healthy, nutritious food and exercise – instead, she’s likely to resort to unhealthy dieting. One US study from 2006 indicated that around two-thirds of girls and a third of boys had taken up smoking or were skipping meals or fasting in order to lose weight. Conversely, she may turn to food to comfort herself.
• Demonstrate that she’s way more than her looks
Make sure your child knows that her appearance isn’t everything by celebrating her personality, strengths, talents and skills.
• Make food the hero, not the villain
Don’t refer to food in negative terms – for example, as the means to get fat or stay slim. Instead, emphasize how good healthy food gives her energy, strengthens her muscles and bones, and boosts her brainpower.
• Make healthy foods available
Keep the fruit bowl full of pre-washed fruit so she can help herself; chop it into snack-size portions and store it in bags on a refrigerator shelf where she can reach in and grab it if she’s hungry between meals.
• Let her regulate her own appetite
Don’t enforce a clean plate rule: she needs to be able to recognise the internal signal her body sends her when she’s full, instead of being conditioned to clear her plate out of habit.
• Model a healthy attitude yourself when it comes to food and exercise.
Never use the phrase “straight to my hips” in her presence, avoid junk food yourself and don’t let on if you’re dieting. Focus on exercise as a means of boosting health and vitality, not as a means of losing weight.