Everyone knows that obesity is on the rise and it is often beginning in childhood. During well-child visits (and often during a visit for colds or flu) parents often bring up a child’s weight. By using growth charts it is fairly easy for the doctor to show a parent and child where they fall on the growth curve and BMI (body mass index) curve as well. When discussing weight issues it is sometimes difficult to decide what terms are appropriate to use.
A study just published on line in Pediatrics surveyed 445 parents of children 2–18 years of age to assess what are perceived to be the most appropriate terms to be used when discussing weight issues in a child. The study, done at Yale University, was interesting in that more than 60% of parents said that referring to a child as “extremely fat” or “obese” would be “most stigmatizing and the least motivating terms to encourage weight loss.”
In this study, American parents preferred that terms such as “unhealthy weight”, “weight problem” or “being overweight” be used to discuss weight issues and that these terms would also be more motivating for weight loss.
In the same study about 36% of parents said that they would “put their children on a strict diet” in response to weight stigma from a doctor. This is concerning as well as since research has shown that severe dieting and restriction of calories in young children may backfire and may at times lead to other issues including eating disorders.
Whether we call it an unhealthy weight or being overweight or even using the term fat probably depends on each family and their own preferences. But whatever we call it, the topic should be addressed at each well child visit. The basic tenets of a healthy body weight still depend on eating a well balanced diet and getting daily exercise. Why does that sound so simple?
The easiest way to start to control weight gain is to begin with good habits when your children are young. If children are raised from their toddler years with a wide variety of healthy foods presented to them at meal and snack time, they will learn to enjoy these foods. “Grazing” should be discouraged and discussions should not be about “what you will or won’t eat” but rather about gathering for family meals and enjoying the time together. Parents needn’t be “short order” cooks, a child will eat if they are hungry and given the opportunity. But by offering a limited variety of foods and preparing just a few items that a child “likes” the stage is already being set for poor eating habits down the road.
Our job as parents is to provide healthy meals (and snacks) to our children, while the children will have to decide whether or not to eat it. There will be days that they are getting their favorite foods and others that they may not, but in the long run they will be a better and healthier eater. It would be nice not to have to figure out the correct term to use for being overweight or even obese. Maybe we can cure it in the next generation and the terminology will become obsolete!
That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.