Grappling with Childhood Obesity
This week, Tina examines a complicated dynamic when parents try to help their
Stephanie, a 13 year old Tinley Park resident, fights constantly with her mom about her weight.
She knows, deep down inside, that she is overweight. Obese, even. But the last person she wants to hear it from is her mother.
Karen, Stephanie’s mother, is at a loss as to what she should do. No matter what she suggests to her daughter, it is immediately rejected. Stephanie’s weight has become just another territorial point in the age-old war between teen and parent.
“We’ve been trying to work on her weight for several years now,” Karen said. “But in the last year or so, she’s become more difficult and puts a wall up whenever I try to tell her what she should be doing.”
Parents often encounter resistance when they try to help children lose weight. The child may view the parents’ efforts as preaching, especially if the parents are not abiding by the same rules themselves. And a parent has to walk the very thin tightrope between helping a child maintain a healthy weight and unknowingly encouraging eating disorders.
As a trainer and wellness coach, I’ve worked with a good number of overweight children and teens. Parents, grasping at their last rope, call begging for help as they don’t know what to do to help their child lose weight. And sometimes the best thing to do is to ask for help. It takes a village to raise a child.
Luckily, our village has several resources available to help children fight obesity and live a healthy lifestyle.
Orland School District 135, for example, has had a comprehensive wellness policy in place since 2008. Bridget McGuiggan, community relations coordinator for the school district, said that the wellness policy came into being after a parent voiced concerns about their child’s food allergies. Former superintendent Dennis Soustek, along with a Parent Advisory Committee, began a proactive effort to review and revamp existing policies and procedures. This eventually morphed into the district’s current wellness policy.
Using non-food incentives and rewards, providing an approved list of healthy snacks for parties and treats, and educating the students about healthy eating and nutrition are some of the actions covered by the wellness policy.
“A big part of our initiative was changing food service providers,” McGuiggan said. “We began using Quest Food Services in the 2008-09 school year.”
Quest Food Services, according to McGuiggan, has a healthy focus, and provides nutritional information online for parents to view.
Palos Community Hospital runs a 12- week wellness program called “Shapedown” for children ages nine through 17. The program aims to prevent obesity in overweight children and teens, and requires a doctor’s referral.
The percentage of obese children in America is growing by alarming rates. Being obese as a child is the strongest predictor for future early death from diseases, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Participants were monitored starting from childhood over a 25-year period. The most overweight children had a mortality rate in future years that was twice as high as the leanest children.
Unfortunately, all the best efforts of schools, trainers, and coaches may be for naught if there’s not appropriate support at home. The best way to reduce the childhood obesity epidemic in our country is to be a role model for our children.
“We definitely don’t practice what we preach to her,” Karen admits. “Both my husband and I don’t exercise, and we do have lots of bad snacks around, as much as we try to hide them from our daughter.”
Here are some other tips and ideas to remember:
- Be positive and encouraging to your child – don’t berate or belittle them for overeating or not being active. You’ll simply create a crevice between you and inhibit further communication on this subject. Instead, be positive and encouraging.
- Kids and teens alike prefer a “game” approach to fitness and exercise. Get involved and play games together for your fitness routine – play catch with a medicine ball, have timed jump rope stints, and run relays.
- Who isn’t fascinated with the various toys of fitness? Utilize instruments like boxing bags, foam balance beams, gliders, and bosus to make fitness fun and different.
- Get the whole family on board the healthy living train – keep your refrigerator stocked with healthy snacks, encourage children to be part of the meal planning and cooking experience. Do active things as a family and encourage movement.
And realize that sometimes, even when it seems like they are ignoring your best efforts and examples, it really is sinking in. You’ll be surprised at the healthy habits they establish as young adults, especially when you’ve tried to set a good example for them.