Does your child need to lose weight? It’s a difficult question for anyone to ask. It turns out that it’s an even more difficult question for parents to answer. A study by the University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands found that half of all parents with obese children thought that their child was of normal weight.
In the United States alone, an estimated 20% of children are overweight, and the number is growing daily. With more and more adults and children tipping the scales in to the overweight category, it is growing increasingly difficult for parents to recognize if their child does have a weight problem. Our perception of what is healthy tends to be skewed when we are surrounded by constant images of people of unhealthy weight.
So, how can you be sure that you don’t fall under the statistics of not realizing your child is overweight? How can you help your kid lose weight?
As the Netherlands study showed, parents can be blinded to their children’s weight problems. The first step is to acknowledge the problem. Be sure to follow your health care provider’s recommendations for well-child check-ups and establish open communication with your child’s daycare provider about any current or potential weight issues.
Eat Dinner Together
Along the same lines as #2, research suggests that simply sitting down together as a family can help children to establish healthy eating habits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found children who sat down to eat with their families maintained healthier eating habits into adulthood. For example, children who had grown up eating meals as a family were more likely to eat breakfast and choose more fruit and vegetables and were less likely to drink sugary sodas.
Whether you cook your own food or order meals from a food delivery service, no matter how hectic your day might be, make it a goal to spend time with your children cooking and eating together. In my family, we ate together—all 7 of us—at least 90% of the time. Today, in my 30s, I pride myself of enjoying a variety of fruits and vegetables, and following a healthy, balanced diet. Thanks to my parents who insisted on and valued family dinners when my siblings and I were kids.
Take Action Together
The same study found that while parents had difficulty recognizing their child’s weight problem, they were perfectly aware of their own. Overweight parents tend to raise overweight children through unhealthy practices. If you are aware of your own weight problem, be honest with yourself and your child and work together on establishing healthy habits. Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables together, cook healthy meals together, and exercise together through child-friendly activities.
Along with the practical application of increasing physical activity, limiting your child’s screen time can help them to avoid a common weight gain culprit—fast food commercials. Researchers at the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth found that obese youth were able to recognize more fast food restaurant ads than their less-weighty peers. In fact, the study states that those youth quick on the fast-food commercial draw were more than twice as likely to be obese. Ouch. And that’s just from watching a commercial.
Be Firm about Bedtime
It’s a common complaint for parents, especially when both parents work outside the home, that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. By the time work is finished, dinner is done, homework is checked off, and the bath routines completed, the day is over. I know many parents who long for more time with their children after work and are tempted to give in to their child’s request to stay up “just for ten more minutes”—but as we all know, that ten more minutes will turn into another hour.
Unfortunately, giving into your child may contribute to his or her weight problems. A team of researchers in New Zealand found that each additional hour of sleep per night at for children aged three to five years was associated with a 61% reduction in the risk of being overweight or obese by age seven. So next time your kids beg for a later bedtime, be firm and know that you are helping maintain their health.
Dealing with an overweight child can be a sensitive subject—but as the research shows, avoiding an open and honest discussion about your child’s weight can be detrimental to his or her health. Start your child on the road to a healthy life by recognizing weight issues early on and taking simple steps towards a healthy weight.
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