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How To Help Your Child If They Are Over-Weight

There has been much in the news lately about children beingoverweight. Headlines have reported that 1.6 million children in the last decade have begun secondary school overweight. Overweight children are five times more likely to become overweight adults, and of course alongside obesity comes a whole swathe of health issues which can plague our children for their entire lives. What can we do about it?

The government is under pressure to bring in measures set out in its Childhood Obesity Plan, and there has been much talk of a sugar tax - but ultimately it is down to us as parents to help our children with this. Here are our suggestions as to what we can do to help our children: 

Don’t Mention The Fword!

The worst thing we can possibly do is tell a child "you’re fat; you need to lose weight.” A conversation like that is doomed to failure and likely to cause a lifetime of problems with self- esteem and food. It is tempting to put your child on a strict diet and exercise regime; to weigh and measure them and to congratulate them for losing weight and inches but this can easily encourage an unhealthy obsession with numbers that will not help them in the future. Children - especially at secondary school age - are already dealing with so much uncertainty and change in their lives, with new schools and puberty, growing into their bodies and dealing with ever-changing friendships. It can be devastating to their already fragile self- esteem to be labelled as "fat” on top of all of this. Children are not stupid; if they are a little larger than their friends, they can see this already and do not need us to point it out to them.

Make It A Family Affair

Children learn best by following examples, rather than being told. We can’t sit on the sofa guzzling fizzy drinks and shovelling cakes and ice cream into our mouths whilst telling our children they must eat only lettuce before heading to the gym! Switch the TV off and let your child see you being more active, eating more healthily and avoiding junk food. If you have other children, make eating and moving something the whole family takes part in. If nobody else in the house is eating unhealthy foods, and everyone is walking to school in the mornings, they won’t feel singled out and will be more inclined to join in with everyone else.

Don’t make a big fuss

Following on from the points above, it is not a good idea to make a big fuss of saying you’re "being good” now or that you’re "not allowed” certain foods. Instead of having a big discussion about a new healthy eating or exercise regime, it might be a good idea to just "forget” to buy cake next time you’re shopping, or to say "let’s all try to eat more vegetables this week.” Perhaps just say you’re trying out a new activity together, or challenge your children to try a new (healthy) food every day or week. Small steps in the right direction are more sustainable than a big change where you suddenly expect your family to hike ten miles every weekend and cut out all sugar.

Similarly, don’t sit your child down to have a "big talk” about their weight. If they come to you wanting to talk about their weight, then don’t confuse the issue by saying "no sweetheart, you’re not fat at all” - as we said above, children know if they are bigger than their friends. But they may not be ready to sit down and tackle this head on, and sitting them down to discuss it openly when they’re not ready can do more harm than good.

Ask questions

As a parent it can be heartbreaking to think your child is different or struggling in any way - but children don’t tend to believe us when we roll out the usual platitudes of "you’re perfect to me” or "everyone is different.” Instead of making statements like this, it can be really helpful to ask questions such as "how do you feel about it?” or "how do you think we could be healthier?” Children won’t often just sit down and volunteer a personal conversation about their problems; it’s our job as parents to create a safe environment where they feel safe to do so. Asking questions that are very open but don’t place any emphasis on their being overweight can really help.

There is no denying that childhood obesity is a big problem these days, but as parents we need to be very careful about how we approach the subject with our children. It can often be beneficial to focus on the more positive aspects of living a more healthy lifestyle, than to bring up the more negative, "we have a problem here” side of it. It is a very tricky issue and
nobody has all the answers, so it’s important to do whatever works best for you and your family.

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