Tread Carefully When Discussing Weight with Kids

Posted 11/09/2016 | By HealthCorps

When a child is diagnosed with excessive weight or obesity, they are at risk for short-term or long-term effects on their health and well-being.  Kids with obesity are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and have a heightened risk for poor self-esteem and bullying.  Children and teens with obesity are also more likely to remain obese as adults.  As such, they are at risk of developing more serious heart disease, complications associated with Type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Th

There have been studies to suggest that if obesity occurs at age two, there is a high likelihood that the obesity persists through adulthood. Studies have even shown a link between obesity and antibiotic use as well as obesity and poor sleep habits. The types of cancer associated with obesity include: breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

According to the most recent CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) statistics in the U.S.:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
  • In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

Many parents are quite concerned about their child’s weight but they are also worried that trying to discuss weight issues may result in impaired physical self-perceptions and well-being.  There is also the risk that the discussion itself, or the manner in which the discussion occurs, could instigate an eating disorder.  A new systematic review of several studies looked at any evidence to show an association between parent-child weight discussions and child well-being.

The meta-analysis examined four intervention studies involving different types or formats of weight discussions.  Some focused on weight and weight loss and had criticism as a component of the discussion, while other chats involved talking about health and positive health behaviors.   Only one of the four studies suggested a positive outcome after the parents discussed weight with their children.  That discussion focused more on healthy habits.  The predominant finding was that weight-talk that focused on encouraging weight loss or criticizing weight was associated with kids having a less optimal self-perception, greater dieting, and greater dysfunctional eating (which had the risk of leading to an eating disorder).

The findings from this review suggest that most parents may not realize how much care they need to take in terms of word choice, timing of the discussion and discussion methods, when deciding to have a talk about weight with their child.  Having discussions that focus on health, healthy habits and balance in life may help to avoid negative outcomes.  Parents may want to involve the pediatrician or seek help from a dietitian or nutritionist.  Yes, obesity is a serious disease, but tread carefully with word choice as you attempt to help your child.  Focus on lifestyle and model the behaviors you’d like your kids to embrace.

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