This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.
PARENTS CAN PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN PREVENTING CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States over the past 30 years. It affects children in every state and from every socioeconomic group. As of 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.
When a problem becomes that prevalent there is a danger of not taking it as seriously as we should. But the risks of obesity are too great to ignore. Preventing excess weight gain in children may be the most important way we can protect their health and quality of life.
With more than 30 years of experience helping families deal with childhood obesity, I know there is no simple solution to this problem. But there are some things every parent should know as they consider their options.
5 Things You Need to Know About Childhood Obesity
1. Your child’s relationship with food is established in the first five years of life
When solid foods are first introduced to a child between the ages of 4 and 6 months, they begin their relationship with food. For the next year parents must learn to interpret the subtle signals their children use to express how hungry they are and what they like until they can tell you themselves. The goal is to allow the child’s internal sensation of hunger to govern how often and how much they eat. Their evolving taste preferences should allow them to accept and refuse different foods without threat of punishment or reward. If this is done consistently, in an eating environment where no bias or judgment is expressed about any food, children will grow to trust their feelings of hunger and appetite by the time they start school.
2. What is eaten at home is more important than what is served at school
Children spend far more time eating at home or out with their parents than they do in school. What children experience during meals with their family is far more important than the institutional feeding that goes on in schools. If parents don’t like the selections available on school menus, they can pack a lunch for their child to eat instead. But if a child is being exposed to new foods in the cafeteria that are not available at home, they have no choice but to eat what is served at home.
3. Weight loss in parents is the biggest predictor of children’s weight loss
A recent study looked at 80 parent-child sets with an overweight or obese 8-12 year old in each. The participants were assigned to one of three different programs to help their child lose weight. Features of the three programs included having the parents change the home food environment, limit what the child ate, and lose weight themselves. The researchers found parents’ weight loss was the only significant predictor of children’s weight loss. These results are consistent with other research showing how important the example set by parents is to successful weight loss in their children.
4. Genetics are a factor in obesity, but age of onset is more important
There is no test we can take at birth to tell us who will become overweight or obese as an adult. If one or both parents are obese, that does increase a child’s risk of also becoming obese, but it is not inevitable. Research from the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Cincinnati found that being obese during the teen years is a stronger indicator of who will be obese in adulthood than being obese in early childhood, regardless of whether the parents were obese. Preventing obesity in adolescents is one of the best ways to prevent obesity in adults.
5. Treat overweight and obesity in your child as a health concern, not an image problem
All children need to learn how the food they eat and their level of activity can affect their health. The conversation should be the same for an overweight child and one who is not, just like talking about the importance of wearing seatbelts and getting immunized. When the focus is on staying healthy, not appearance, your child is less likely to develop emotional issues about their weight.