It seems so intuitive that the solution to childhood obesity is for parents to feed their kids healthier and encourage exercise, but this obviously is not happening. Child obesity rates continue to balloon.
Among kids, there has been a 10-fold increase in type 2 diabetes, social problems and low self-esteem, according to Edward Abramson, PhD, professor emeritus at Cal State University-Chico. He gave his childhood obesity speech to the American Psychological Association’s 117th Annual Convention (2009).
But the problems caused by obesity in children shouldn’t be surprising or new news. Obese kids, indeed, suffer many social consequences of their size, which then lead to poor self-esteem. Children, however, can’t become obese by accident. Parents are responsible for the food supply.
It’s easy to say that young kids who are determined to overeat will find a way to do so, like stuff themselves at a friend’s house. I myself stuffed myself at the Gordon residence, where I babysat as an adolescent, yet I never developed a weight problem because my mother was strict about overeating and imposed restrictions on helpings of “junk” food. Our cupboards did not have an endless supply of junky snacks.
Abramson says that poor eating habits can spring from emotional issues, and that a mother’s attitudes and behaviors have more influence on kids’ eating habits and body image, than do a father’s.
I was not allowed, as a child, to pig out on Twinkies, donuts or cupcakes. It was a rule, like any other rule I had to follow. The amount of junk food I was able to sneak was not significant enough to add on weight, because my mother would buy only one box of Twinkies at a time, and there were other people in the house who also wanted them. I say all this to point out how effective mothers can be when it comes to obesity prevention in their kids.
Abramson suggests that parents encourage healthy eating habits in their children by ensuring that the kids witness them enjoying healthy food, and having kids help prepare such food, rather than be a passive bystander.
When it’s time to reward kids by giving them food, be careful. Nowhere is it engraved in gold that the type of food that’s used for rewards should be candy, cake, cookies or some other sugary item.
I know a woman who’d reward her young daughter with whole fruit. This way, a child is tricked — for lack of a better term — into perceiving fruit as yummy and very desirable. Another way parents can stave off obesity in their kids, or help with weight loss, is to be physically active. The level of overweight in children is directly proportional to time spent watching TV.
Abramson says that most toddlers and babies actually like their bodies, and most parents would agree. A toddler will stare at herself in the mirror and pretend she’s a beauty queen. Abramson says that 30 percent of 9-year-old girls, 55 percent of 10-year-old and 65 percent of 11-year-old girls believe they are fat.
The problem here is that some of these girls aren’t overweight, or are minimally on the heavy side. The other problem is that many are, indeed, obese. Food can become a “drug” for depressed or nervous kids who feel insecure.
Parents may also be in denial regarding how fat their child is, and instead, refer to them as “healthy” or “big-boned.” By all means, never berate or ridicule your kid for being fat or obese! But at the same time, don’t hide this health hazard under the covers, either.
When it’s time for physical activity, it’s time for fun and play; emphasize that, rather than emphasizing that physical activity will burn calories and fat. You’re going hiking, swimming and roller skating for fun, not to lose weight. Your kids must pitch in with house and yard work because they’re a part of the family, not because it will burn calories. Only you, the parent, has to know that!