My Child Is Overweight, Now What?

My Child Is Overweight, Now What?

If your child is overweight, he or she probably knows it. It’s terrible, but kids can be mean and your child might have already been teased by his or her fellow classmates.  Two out of every ten children in South Africa are either overweight or obese.  According to The Medical Research Council of South Africa, 17% of children between one and nine years of age living in urban areas are overweight or obese.

Scary statistics to say the least but a reality that many of us face in our fast-paced lives.  Gone are the good old days of home-cooked meals three times a day.  Fast-food, snacks and take-aways have become the staple diet for many urban families and as such, the rate of overweight and obese children has increased.

Here we look at a few ideas for you to help your child manage their weight by talking to them and supporting them through the process.

Get talking: Look for a relaxed time to talk about his or her weight in a low-key way. Use examples of others whom you might know are trying to curb their weight and the reasons why e.g. health risks. But point out the health benefits of healthy living.  You can explain that low-fat foods, fruits and vegetables are important in maintaining one’s health. And, that although sweets taste good they need to be limited as they can rot your teeth and cause illness.

Make healthy eating a family affair:  Encourage good eating by keeping junk food and fizzy drinks out of your house and by making your child feel like part of the process ("Let's go to the shop and pick out some healthy foods").  Rather make sure that the majority of your child’s diet comes from real, whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, eggs, lean meats, fish and poultry.  Remind them if they eat lots of fruit and vegetables and play outside more, they'll grow tall and strong just like you!  

Play:  Children need 60 minutes of activity a day (not all at once but can be broken up into 10 – 20-minute slots).  Try make exercise and activity fun for your children, like playing ball with the dogs, or climbing the jungle gyms at the park.  Ask them to pick a favourite activity daily that they can participate in.  It is wise to limit the amount of time they are allowed to sit and watch TV or play on their iPads. Making fitness a group project, whether you're washing the car, playing tag, or signing up for a family swim, will help your child stick to a routine. Or if your child is passionate about ballet, point out that professional dancers have big, muscular legs. This should get her bouncing on an exercise ball in no time! Keep the goals modest at first so exercise isn’t seen as a chore or punishment. Role-modelling a healthy lifestyle is no different from role-modeling kindness or honesty.  Once kids see that daily physical activity is important to you, they'll want to be more physically active too.

Never Say Diet.  Yes, your child might need a wakeup call but this should be done in a gentle loving manner and never by putting them on a restrictive diet or on the scale regularly.  Statistics show that cases of classic anorexia are starting as young as the age of 6.

Don’t lie:  You shouldn't lie to your child about her weight ("No, you're not fat!"), but you should talk about it honestly - without letting it become an obsession. It’s not wise to compare their size to that of their peers. Encourage them to be unique, in body and soul. Don't forget to focus on how much fun they are to be around. And regardless of their size, remind your child every day that you love her.

It might also be sensible to address the underlying emotional issues that could be involved in your child’s weight issues.  Seeking guidance from a professional psychologist, dietician, or personal trainer might guide you in learning how best to create a better, healthier lifestyle for your child to ensure you both live a long and happy life.

Date Published: 
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