Intermountain Healthcare

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month: Talking to Kids about their Weight, Without Creating Body Issues

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September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and pediatric dietitians at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital want to help parents find ways to talk with their kids about healthy habits, including nutrition and physical activity, without fat-shaming or creating body issues.

According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 school-age children in the U.S. are obese. There can be many reasons for this including genetics, metabolism, community design (such as access to grocery stores and safe places to play), sleep disruptions, along eating and physical activity behaviors.

Studies have also shown that children who are overweight can experience serious health issues later in life such as diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.

“Sometimes parents think tough love and constantly pointing out the problem will somehow motivate a child to eat better, but this often can increase the weight or result in disordered eating,” said Margaret Braae, RDN, a pediatric dietitian at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “We encourage working together as a family to promote healthier habits – instead of singling out one member of the family.”

Dietitians say one of the best ways to help a child eat healthier is for the entire family to focus on healthier living as opposed to fat-shaming or focusing too much on a child’s weight and appearance.

Ways to do this include:

  • Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and high fat or sugary treats
  • Offering more fruits and vegetables
  • Watching portion sizes
  • Eating and preparing meals as a family
  • Turning off distractions during mealtimes such as television and phones
  • Involving kids in meal preparation
  • Being a model for healthy eating behavior

“The earlier families can promote these healthy habits the easier it is to prevent obesity in kids,” said Braae

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents also focus on things outside of nutrition that can impact a child’s health. Proper sleep, screen time, and physical activity are all factors that impact obesity.

Experts say kids should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This doesn’t have to be organized sports but can include outdoor play, hiking, or riding bikes.

Doctors also urge parents to start a nighttime routine with children when they are young to get in the habit of winding down to avoid disruptions in sleep.  Not getting enough sleep does increase the risk of obesity.

For more information about kids’ nutrition, visit Primary Children’s Hospital website.

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