Should You Put Your Kids On a Diet?

As a parent you want the best for your child—good grades, good looks, popularity and happiness. And you want to protect your child from health risks like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as from the ridicule of other children. But before deciding to put your child on a diet, stop and consider why your child might be overweight, and what effects the diet will have.

Obesity — Whose “Fault”?

An overweight child may be seen as lazy or undisciplined, but this is rarely true. Many factors can contribute to obesity. One is genetic — children with overweight parents tend to be overweight. Another is our modern lifestyle; with T V and video games, children are getting less exercise. Finally, children may eat in response to feelings of anger, pain or loneliness. The pleasure of food may unconsciously replace that extra dose of care, attention or approval they need.

Diets Don’t Work

Few parents realize that by putting their child on a diet, they are sending a very negative message. Being denied food is frightening. And children may feel shame and guilt because they have failed to “measure up” to parents’ expectations. That’s why researchers now believe that forcing a diet on a child usually does more harm than good. In any case, most parent-enforced diets simply do not work. Children are expert at sneaking food or finding other sources, such as a friend. Sometimes it is even a guilty parent who provides the snacks. In the long run, the effort children put into getting food may cause them to become even more centered on eating.

Nourishing Good Food Habits

So what can you do?

First, discuss your child’s weight with his or her doctor.

Providing there is no underlying medical reason for the excess weight, experts suggest these positive steps toward good food habits:

  • Emphasize regular mealtimes.
  • Try limiting your child’s eating to breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon snack, and allow them to eat as much as they wish of the food you provide.
  • Make the food good-tasting as well as nutritious. Most children will learn to stop eating when they are no longer hungry.
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable.
  • Avoid commenting on your child’s eating habits, and save family disputes for another time.
  • Be sure your own eating habits set an example for your children.
  • Encourage exercise. I his may involve nothing more than turning off the TV. Once they become bored enough, children will learn to amuse themselves without it, generally in a more active way.
  • You may be able to help your child find an active, enjoyable sport or group activity, such as scouting. Make yourself available to participate, but don’t push.
  • Listen to your child.
  • Make sure he or she gets an extra measure of your love and approval.

Looks or Happiness: What Really Counts?

An overweight child may never have a “perfect” figure, no matter what parents do. What is important is not how children look, but how happy they are. Letting your child know you feel this way can in itself be an important first step toward reasonable weight management.

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