Currently 13.7 million children and adolescents (ages 2-19) in the United States are struggling with obesity, putting them at risk for a number of serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes and asthma. But have you ever wondered how to respond to a child’s question about their weight? Many parents struggle with what to say and how to say it. In fact, a WebMD/Sanford Health survey found that parents of teens find it more difficult to talk about weight with their child than talking about sex, drugs, alcohol, or smoking.
A tough conversation
Unfortunately, the majority of pediatricians don’t feel adequately prepared to talk with children about weight, either. Studies show that over 75 percent of physicians feel that they have not received adequate training to be able to counsel patients on changing diet or increasing physical activity levels.
Experts at the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance say the issue is compounded by the limited resources to help parents respond to children’s questions about weight. To help, STOP developed the Weigh In guide, a free tool that offers parents “real-world” situations and plain language responses to questions about weight issues, including understanding BMI, body image, bullying, weight bias and family obesity.
Tips for conversational success
If you’re wanting to have a responsible and compassionate conversation with your child about weight, the Weigh In guide provides four important tips:
- Be Positive and Supportive: Supporting a child helps to build confidence and self-esteem, no matter what the situation.
- Be Realistic and Specific: Taking small steps helps make any goal — whether health or otherwise — seem possible. And it’s important for parents to be specific about what to do. For example, it’s like the difference between telling your child, “Your room is a mess. Clean it up.” versus, “Your room is a mess. Please put your shoes in the closet and make your bed.”
- Keep the Conversation Open: Parents should ask open-ended questions and ask kids how they feel. It may help children feel that it’s OK to speak openly.
- Highlight Health: Perhaps one of the biggest lessons that a parent can learn is that weight is an issue of health, not how a person looks. Talking about extra weight should be no different from talking to your kids about other health issues kids may have, like asthma or ADHD.
The next step
Once you’ve had an open and positive conversation with your child about weight, it’s vital you work with them to implement healthy practices at home and beyond. Here are a few practical ideas of how you can foster healthy habits in your household:
- Increase the number of minutes of physical activity in a day
- Create family play time and increase outdoor play time
- Shop for or find healthy meals as a family
- Increase fruit and vegetable consumption
- Prepare family meals together
The Weigh In guide lets parents and caregivers know they are not alone. It is intended to help bring out into the open a conversation that often requires parents to tread into unfamiliar territory with their children. STOP’s goal was to provide a guide that doesn’t point fingers but offers a helping hand.Weight is a tough issue — perhaps the toughest today’s parents face given all the complexities. But that doesn’t mean we can avoid it. In fact, it only intensifies the need to weigh in.