Pediatric obesity is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States, with almost one-third of US children and youth overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese comes with a stigma, which can lead to avoidance of health care services and discussions about weight. Bullying or teasing from parents about a child’s weight can worsen their level of obesity or even place the child at risk for an eating disorder.
For parents and caregivers, starting a discussion about weight can be extremely difficult, and there are limited resources for parents to help them start a discussion with their children about their weight. Both parents and healthcare providers can utilize these tools to have an open discussion with families about a child’s weight.
To reduce shame, use people-first language. By doing so, you are focusing on the person rather than the condition.
Say this: Your child is affected by obesity.
Not this: Your child is obese.
Parents can utilize people–first language by talking to their child about how they are concerned for the child because they are carrying around extra weight. After all, it can harm their health. Ask the child how they feel about their weight and discuss if the child is currently being bullied or teased because of their weight.
Focus on unique talents, not looks. Educate the child that everyone has different builds and body sizes and show them role models who make the most out of their talent instead of their looks. This will help the child become comfortable in their skin. Focus on the child’s strengths instead of just their weight during your conversation. Have the parent explain to their child that their weight isn’t a reflection of who they are as a person. The child may be a great athlete, student, artist, or musician.
Support healthy decisions. Tell the child they are not alone in their journey to be healthier; the entire family will support them in making healthier decisions. The most important tip for parents is not to single out their overweight child. Rather, everyone in the family needs to be on board for the child to be successful. The whole family can start making changes to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
Do it together. Both parents need to facilitate healthier habits and model healthy behaviors. Parents should cook healthy meals and eat as a family. During family meals, parents should encourage their children to serve themselves but not force them to “clean their plates.” This is a great way to teach children the right portion sizes for their bodies. The child should also be involved in grocery shopping and be encouraged to select a variety of fruits and vegetables. Parents can plan family outings that promote physical activity like hiking, skiing, swimming, or bike riding. Something as simple as taking a family walk after dinner can help reinforce the regular physical activity.
Remember, a conversation about weight is temporary but healthy habits should be lifelong. To learn more about pediatric weight management, check out our webinar by the same name. Dietitians can be helpful facilitators as families embark on the journey toward healthier lifestyles.
Sara O’Brien, MS, RDN, is the Regional Access Manager for Nutricia North America. Previously she worked as a pediatric dietitian and clinical nutrition manager in both outpatient and acute care settings. She completed a combined bachelor’s degree and dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut and a Master’s Degree in Dietetics at the University of Rhode Island. Sara is a specialist in pediatric nutrition and believes in an individualized patient-focused approach to nutrition.
Dietitians On Demand is the nationwide leader in staffing registered dietitians, specializing in short-term, temporary and permanent-hire positions in acute care, long term care and food service positions. Our dietitians cover a vacancy, maternity leave, vacations, FMLA or increases in census. Check out our job openings, or request your coverage today!
Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2011-2014. NCHS Data Brief. 2015;(219):1–8. pmid:26633046