How to talk to your child about losing weight
Positivity is the best policy
You’ve probably seen it in the news—right now, one in three children is considered overweight or obese. It’s an epidemic.
Obesity can have negative effects on your child’s health and self-esteem, and it can lead to bigger health concerns down the road, such as heart disease and diabetes. Making changes now can help your child for the rest of his or her life, but it’s important to handle these issues sensitively.
“While it’s important to keep your child healthy, creating a negative self-perception can lead to issues like eating disorders,” said Robert A. Mangano, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Geisinger, “All children are different, so consult a professional to determine whether your child is truly overweight or obese. Then, if necessary, try to help your child make changes in their habits.”
If your child needs to lose weight, here are some ways to broach the subject.
Avoid guilt and blame
If your child is already conscious of their weight, it’s important to avoid assigning guilt and blame. For many children, their weight is something bullies will focus on in school. As a result, all of the emotional stress can cause them to eat out of sadness and possibly develop anxiety and depressive disorders. If your child has insecurity about their weight, find out where those feelings are coming from—whether it’s a bully, a friend, a relative or even a teacher.
To start the conversation, ask them how they feel about their body and their weight. Ask questions and let them guide the conversation; avoid being accusatory and focus on being positive and solution-oriented.
If your child is overweight or obese, let them know that no one is to blame. Focus instead on the creating a constructive health and fitness plan and rewarding them with praise when they make healthy choices like a good snack or playing outside.
Focus on creating healthy habits
Losing weight can be hard, especially once someone is overweight or obese.
“Obesity can slow down your child’s metabolism,” said Dr. Mangano. “Once their metabolism is slowed, it’s harder to get moving and lose weight, and easier to gain it back.”
Instead of focusing on weight loss, emphasize creating and maintaining healthy habits, which tend to have a greater effect on a child’s long-term health.
Help your child identify what choices they can make throughout the day to be healthier. For most children, healthy habits such as eating a good breakfast consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; exercising for at least an hour every day; eating dinner more than three hours before bed; getting between eight and 11 hours of sleep every night (depending on their age) and eating three, well-portioned meals throughout the day can have a dramatic impact on their weight. Encourage them to stop eating when they’re full—not to keep eating because there’s more food on the plate.
Make it a family affair
Losing weight is easier said than done. As with any goal, it’s easier to succeed when you have role models and people going through the same thing.
“One of the most successful ways to help your child lose weight is to change the habits of the whole family,” said Dr. Mangano. “Instead of asking the child to go out an exercise more, get out and exercise with them for an hour every day. Instead of asking them to eat better, help model good eating habits by eating meals high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins and low in sugars and calories.”
Create SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive—for your family to stay on track.
If you’ve refocused habits on diet and exercise and you’re not seeing results, enlist your pediatrician or family doctor’s help.
“Your doctor can offer advice on how to make better progress, or they may try to identify what else may be contributing to your child’s weight,” said Dr. Mangano.
Robert A. Mangano, M.D., is a pediatric cardiologist physician at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mangano or another pediatric cardiologist, please call 570-271-6089 or visit Geisinger.org.