At some level, I knew my son was in trouble. He seemed to be getting bigger every day. I thought I served healthy meals, I tried to get him involved in sports, I took him to the doctor, but nothing was working. I kept thinking that it was just a phase; it was just baby fat. He’ll grow out of it, right? The day he came home from kindergarten crying because the kids called him ‘fat’, was the day that I had to admit that my child was in trouble. It was time to do something about it. But what?
1. Acknowledge That Your Child is in Trouble
A 2010 study in the Netherlands showed that over three-quarters of parents did not think their child was overweight, even the parents whose child was, in fact, obese. I know that I am guilty of this. The study also showed that most of the children that were overweight had overweight parents. I hadn’t thought of myself as overweight. Sure, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I was the same size as everyone else in my community. Were we all fat? The Netherlands study showed that parents did not perceive their child as overweight because they were so used to seeing overweight people all around them on a daily basis. I had to look at myself and admit that I too was overweight. No more hiding my head in the sand, it was time to acknowledge that my child—and me—were fat.
2. Determine to Lose Weight Together
A recent study in California on childhood obesity suggests that losing weight yourself is the number one way to help a child who is overweight or obese. I found this news staggering! Of course, I already knew that children mimic their parents; it is only natural that an overweight child would have a better chance of losing weight if his or her parents also joined in the weight loss program.
In fact, most treatment centers today insist that parents participate in the child’s weight loss program. Programs that focus on changing the foods in the house, parenting skills, and parents joining the program provide the best regime for weight loss success.
3. Adequate Sleep is Important
A New Zealand study in 2011 suggests that the average child should get roughly 11 hours of sleep per day. Looking at my own son, I realized that he was not getting anywhere near that amount of sleep. According to researchers, inadequate sleep actually increases the accumulation of fat, changing the body’s composition.
Furthermore, scientists have proven that our appetite is actually stimulated by not getting enough sleep because the stomach secretes more of the hormone responsible for making us hungry. The study concluded that getting enough sleep actually reduces the risk of children becoming overweight by 61%. Here is a weight loss strategy that I definitely can use for my son.
4. Get Your Child Away from TV Ads
We watch a lot of TV in our house. I hate commercials and always change the channel when they come on. However, when that commercial for a juicy hamburger at the fast-food restaurant comes on, I start getting hungry. Does this happen to you? Well, it also is happening to your child.
The Pediatric Academic Societies released a report in 2012 stating that there is a definite link between child obesity and fast-food ads. Dr. Auden McClure from Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth says, “…youth who are aware of and receptive to televised fast-food marketing may be at risk for health consequences.”
Why does this happen? Because people who are regularly exposed to these types of ads develop patterns of eating that include these high-calorie foods. Another reason suggests that many people are simply more inclined to pick up visual signals that encourage them to eat.
In addition, IDEFICS (Identification and Prevention of Lifestyle and Diet-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants) reports that TV viewing promotes long periods of sitting with no physical activity, which is a leading cause of weight problems. I don’t know about you, but I think it is time to limit the amount of TV time in my family so that I can help my child learn a healthier lifestyle.
5. Gather Together for Family Meals
Does your family eat together at the dining table? My best friend’s family ate all their meals together. Dinnertime was a family production. Her mother cooked three-course meals that included vegetables and there was fruit for dessert. They were required to be home for dinner at 6 pm every night.
My friend has healthy eating habits today and maintains a healthy weight at age 40. I, on the other hand, frequently ate in front of the TV or in my bedroom. We rarely had family dinners. At age 45, I am considered overweight.
A 2007 survey from the University of Minnesota found that of more than 1,500 former high school students surveyed, those whose families ate together had healthier eating habits in their twenties. Researchers, therefore, encourage parents to gather the family as often as possible for meals together—breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I used to cringe at the thought of tackling a weight loss program for my child and myself. However, my child is important to me. I want him to learn a healthy lifestyle so that he can live longer and be happy. These five steps will help me on the road to creating that healthy lifestyle for all of us. I hope that you also try these steps to help your child overcome his or her weight problem.