How to Talk to
Children About Their Weight
by Maggie Perkins, RD, LDN – Senior Nutrition Health Educator
Many of us have heard the scary statistic that nearly one out of three children in North Carolina is overweight or obese. This month is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month which serves to remind us of the work ahead to see the health of our nation change. There are numerous risks for obesity like Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease (#1 leading cause of death for adults), and cancer. And recently we are finding children with precursors for these lifestyle diseases. Children aren’t able to understand the risks of complex disease states but something that children can understand is that being healthy makes them feel good and proud of their bodies. Speaking with children about weight is a sensitive subject and it is very important because the things you say to a child about their weight can affect them for a lifetime. Since the rate of overweight and obese children is so high, that means you will most likely be confronted with a child (niece, nephew, son, daughter, grandchild, student, friend) that is struggling with their weight. Here are some tips when you are confronted with this issue:
1. Practice what you Preach
I have stepped on so many toes throughout my years trying to tell my family how to be healthy until eventually I learned that to facilitate change in someone else, the best thing you can do is live healthy yourself. The experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say it best “Don’t Talk, Do Something”1. Talking to anyone, especially children, about their weight is a touchy matter and can often lead to hurt feelings. Instead of babbling on, invite the child to go on a walk, dance, or eat a piece of fruit with you. Doing these healthy activities make us feel good, help us maintain a healthy body weight, and as an added bonus, can strengthen your relationship.
2. Forget the scale
If a child is overweight, an actual weight loss is usually not recommended. Because a child’s body is still developing it is important that a child receives all the nutrients they need to grow. If calories are severely restricted, then the child may not be receiving all the vital nutrients. A dietitian can tell you precisely the amount of calories a child needs but resources like www.choosemyplate.org can give you a close range2. The key for children is weight maintenance and for the child to grow into their current weight. Focus on encouraging healthy habits. Putting a large emphasis on the scale can create unhealthy preoccupation with weight and lead to dangerous dieting methods.
3. Don’t say Diet
Children of every shape and size should be encouraged to live healthy lifestyles, which includes getting 60 minutes of physical activity every day and eating a variety of foods from the MyPlate3. The USDA’s MyPlate guides us to make healthy choices to get all the nutrients we need from our food. One of the main messages from the MyPlate is to ‘make half your plate fruits and vegetables’. September is also Fruit and Veggies Matter Month so here’s a big shout out to fruits and vegetables for being beneficial for weight maintenance and overall health. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are packed with vitamins, minerals, water and fiber which keeps us feeing fuller for longer. Adding more of these foods throughout your day is an easy step to living a healthier life.
If you are interesting in learning more about living a healthier lifestyle check out the Poe Center for Health Education’s nutrition programming at www.poehealth.org.