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Healthy Weight Center

Helping an Overweight Child

03/11/2009

Question:

How to help a 14yr old boy - who is at least 40 pounds overweight. How do you talk to him concerning his weight and take away the negative things like candy?

Answer:

This is a very common problem in today`s society. Children, in general, are more inactive then in past generations. In addition, they are bombarded with conflicting messages through advertising. Many food ads promote overeating `biggie` and `super-sized` food and beverage portions) and the media re-enforce the image that being thin is beautiful/handsome and desirable. Overweight kids may experience teasing from peers and a lowered self-esteem. If your child has expressed concern for his weight, that opens the door to discussion. If he has not, you will need to determine when (and if) it is time to bring up the subject. In either case, the discussion should be done in a sensitive, calm manner. If you are not comfortable bring up the subject, your son`s pediatrician can help you. Now, this may sound funny coming from a dietitian, but realize that dieting is not the answer to weight control. Typically, a restrictive diet will give the child feelings of being deprived and controlled by you, instead of learning to control food and beverage intake on his own. Feeling controlled and deprived will only make him angry with you and lower his self-esteem. In place of a weight loss `diet` many dietitians and doctors recommend having a child learn healthy eating and exercise habits that can be used for a lifetime and will help him eventually `grow into his weight.` The parents` job is to provide the right environment for these healthy habits to form, such as making sure well-balanced meals are served and healthful snacks are available at scheduled times (not offered haphazardly). It is then up to the child to determine how much food is enough to satisfy his appetite. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian (RD) can help the child understand appetite and satiety (`how much is enough`) cues. The RD can also teach him how to fit all foods into a healthy diet (in moderation), as well as offer other non-diet approach techniques for achieving & maintaining a healthy body weight (while keeping his self esteem in tact). As part of this approach, daily exercise is encouraged. Parent`s can promote exercise by setting a good example. They should make it fun to do, not a chore. Instead of spending family time playing video games or watching a movie together, try a family walk, bike-ride, or other enjoyable activity. The bottom line is that for positive results, focus on the positives! (Using exercise or holding back favorite foods as a punishment will only produce negative results in the long run.) To learn more about this subject, I recommend referring to the book `How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much` by Ellyn Satter, R.D., A.C.S.W. It is a wonderful reference! Best of luck to you and thank you for your question.

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Response by:

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University