How to Talk to Your Child About Obesity

Most children under five will have limited interest in discussing why the kid’s meal at the local fast food place isn’t what should be eaten every day. That’s the age of the fussy eater, which will (hopefully) soon pass. Age does matter, particularly when dealing with the very young.
Elementary school age is the best time to start talking to your child about obesity. However, using that term is not going to be a good idea. Some won’t know what it means and others will have difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea. It’s also a negative word, and using positive words is much more effective. By the time kids are in junior high and high school, they are ready for more in depth discussions. Knowing when to say what is the key.
1) What not to say: Never use another person (adult or child) as an example of what obese or fat means. This can lead to teasing, and the overweight example will pay the price. It’s also not to explain why your child can’t have the desired food by saying “you don’t want to get fat, do you?” If the child does put on weight, this sort of thing can lower self esteem, which can in turn lead to more overeating, etc.
2) What you can say: Tell the truth. Something along the lines of “This food is not healthy for you,” or “Why don’t you have X instead.” Make sure that any other food mentioned is something that is a) healthy and b) liked by the child. If your child loves french fries and hates bananas, offering a banana instead is not going to be helpful.
Older elementary school children should be told about the conditions that can come along with being overweight. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even strokes have been known to occur in young people when they are overweight.
By the time a child is ready for junior high or high school, they have probably been taught a great deal about what obesity can do to the human body. However, helping them make healthy food choices is a lot harder. One reason for this is that some fast food companies deliberately open restaurants near schools. Your best bet is to help your child find good alternatives at these places, because they will be tempted to eat there with their friends.
I am not saying the above to blame fast food restaurants for the childhood obesity. In fact, many are developing better meal choices, which will be very helpful in combating it. It’s our job as parents to make sure that our children know what to eat and why. Have them look on-line at the nutritional information many provide so that they know what to ask for.
3) What you can do: Serving your family healthy meals and snacks is a must. So is the whole family. Let the kids see you eating the right foods and dedicating yourself to an exercise program. It’s said that our kids will do 80% of what we do right and 100% of what we do wrong. Being a good example is important.
You may also want to talk to the schools and the restaurants in your area. Find out what they are serving and how healthy (or not so much) it is. If you find evidence that they are serving foods that can lead to weight problems, ask that they add healthier choices. You won’t know what you can accomplish in this matter if you don’t try.
Childhood obesity is a problem for all of us. In fact, it has been deemed a matter of national security, as so many young adults who try to join our military are unfit for duty. It’s time to stop casting blame and looking for scapegoats. We need to take responsibility and find a solution.