A Parent’s Guide to Dietary Discussions

By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified
diabetes educator and certified health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Michigan




Knowing
that one in
three
Michigan children are overweight or obese, it’s crucial that parents
understand the best approach to discussions around health. The physical, mental
and emotional consequences of ignoring a child’s health largely outweigh the
discomfort one might feel addressing it. By opening the dialogue as a family,
young children become empowered to live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
The Risk at Hand 
When
dealing with an overweight child, parents are right to be concerned. Excess
weight can lead to health problems and chronic conditions including: asthma, joint
pain, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Symptoms of these conditions can take effect in early adolescents, during key
developmental years. Overweight children are also at risk of the mental and
emotional torment that comes with teasing, bullying, depression and low
self-esteem.
Setting the Tone
When
discussing a healthy lifestyle with young children, adults should frame the
conversation in a way that is age-appropriate and relevant to his or her needs.
For every parent, there are ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle without damaging
a child’s body image or self-esteem.
  • Avoid
    conversations around weight.
    According to a study in JAMA
    Pediatrics
    , children whose parents talked to them about weight or size were more
    likely to adopt unhealthy eating behaviors such as extreme dieting, fasting and
    other eating disorders. Rather than identifying the need to lose weight,
    parents should focus on the benefits of healthy behaviors, such as increased
    energy, serotonin-induced “feel good” moods and focused thoughts. 
  • Recognize
    efforts, not results.
    Parents should always pay attention to children demonstrating a conscious
    effort to eat healthier, exercise or simply learn more about health and
    wellness. Any conversation or mention of weight loss should be secondary to
    recognizing the benefits of a happier, healthier body and mind.
  •  No
    comparisons.
    Children should understand early in life that everyone comes in
    different shapes and sizes. With the nature of social media and the illusion of
    perfection it can create, parents should monitor their child’s use of phones
    and other devices. At the end of the day, there is no exact ideal weight that one
    should aspire to reach.  
  •  Watch what
    you say.
    Despite what many adults may believe, most children and adolescents
    are heavily influenced by their parents. When parents fail to respect their own
    bodies, children learn to build self-esteem off appearance. An “I’m so fat”
    comment sends the message that weight is more important than health. 

Be a Role Model
Parents
should model a healthy lifestyle in the home by making nutritious meals more
readily accessible and physical activity the norm. For example, by providing healthy
breakfast, lunch and dinner options, children will likely make better dietary
choices on their own. Integrating regular physical activity into everyday life can
be as simple as family walks, morning stretches or bedtime yoga. Sedentary time –
television, video games, internet surfing – should be limited to no more than
two hours per day. It’s also a great idea to explore school sports and
recreational programs to ensure that
children and teens are engaged in moderate physical activity for at least 60
minutes every day.

A Healthier Michigan

Our mission is to help everyone in Michigan get healthier from the inside out. This means everything from giving you resources to help you make better decisions about diet and exercise, as well as information on creating and sustaining nurturing communities and successful businesses — everything you need to help create a healthier Michigan.

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