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How Can I Talk to My Child about Eating and Weight?

Blog How Can I Talk to My Child about Eating and Weight?

Childhood obesity continues to balloon at alarming rates in the United States and is considered a major public health crisis. The CDC reported that more than one third of children and adolescents were obese or overweight in 2012. Along with physical implications like cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes and bone and joint problems, childhood obesity also presents greater risks for social and psychological problems.

Poor self-esteem and body image often accompany the physical health concerns of diabetes. On the other side of obesity lives the impossible body ideal presented in the media, leading to disordered eating. Both present major psychological risks for children.

How Do I Know if My Child Has a Poor Body Image?

“Signs of an unhealthy body image may include a child that is fixated on his or her weight, consistently making negative comments about his or her body, following a restrictive diet or focusing on only ‘healthy’ foods to eat,” Anna King, a registered dietician at Riley at IU Health, said. “A child facing disordered eating may also fixate on eating too little, eating too much, restrictive or picky eating and a desire to eat meals alone.”

How Can I Talk to My Child about Eating and Weight?

Parents often wake up with a number of fears for their children each day. From health to education to socialization, so much falls on heavy parental shoulders. With those fears, tough conversations often follow. To tackle the topics of healthy eating and weight in ways that support strong self-esteem, King suggests these tactics:

  • Focus on the positives of healthy eating. Parents should talk about how eating well can improve moods, increase energy levels, help with athletic performance and help with academic focus and performance as well.
  • Be a good role model. Focusing on being a good role model is imperative for parents. Children learn a great deal about healthy eating and body image views from their parents’ words and actions. “Most parents may not even notice the things they do and say about their own weight and the negative effects it can have on kids,” King said. “Parents should model a healthy attitude towards foods and a positive view about their body image. If a child constantly hears mom or dad complaining about their weight or call certain foods bad, he or she will adopt the same attitude.”
  • Incorporate the proper balance. As long as a child is eating three meals a day that include fruits and vegetables, is drinking water and limiting sugary drinks and is being physically active then King said she usually is not concerned about the number on a scale for the child.

If you're concerned about your child's weight, diet or attitude about his or her body, talk with your child's healthcare provider. Also schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian who will assess your family's diet and help you make appropriate changes that will meet the needs of all family members.

Our Riley Connections Healthy Eating and Play and Exercise articles offer a wealth of tactics to help you and your family achieve everyday wellness.

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