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Is Your Child Overweight? What You Can Do

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Dr. Meg Meeker

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a report stating that as a country we’re making modest improvements in the obesity problems among our kids. The good news is that 19 states saw a decline in obesity while 3 saw an increase and the rest stayed stable.  Their conclusion was that more research is needed to figure out why kids struggle with weight issues and what can be done about it. Of course, they will recommend community and school programs.

There is nothing wrong with good programs. But as a mom, I would like to see the CDC help us parents. After all, we are the ones who buy groceries, pack lunches, or give money for school lunch. If we need financial help, schools provide it; but still, parents are the ones overseeing the majority of food our kids eat. So why the scarcity of research and help for us?

The ADD Health Study, one of the largest and best completed on kids’ behaviors, show that if you want to change a child’s behavior, help the two most influential groups of people in their lives: parents first and teachers second. Why? Because adults are the ones with power in a child’s life and the reason is simple. We are the ones kids look up to and need.

WHAT CAUSES OUR KIDS TO BECOME OVERWEIGHT

I’ve cared for kids with weight issues for almost 30 years, and I can tell you why many are overweight.

First, physical activity has fallen. Many children have become “indoor” people after school. Many watch television, play video games, or sit on their computers too many hours a day. Sometimes this isn’t their fault. Many study on computers to get homework done. Other times, however, kids are left by us to play games or watch television because we’re too tired to get them outside.

Second, we suffer from choice overload (for us and them). We are simply given too many food choices to handle. Have you tried to buy chips or pretzels recently? It can cause a panic attack. If you shop at a store like Costco or Walmart and see an entire wall of potato chips, you feel like you are exercising restraint if you buy only one type.

Choosing just a few bad things when the store is filled with thousands, make you feel good about your purchases. The truth is,  even one bag of chips is one too many for a child struggling with his weight.

Third, there is the emotional factor. Many parents overeat because of psychological reasons and pass these eating habits onto children. This is the greatest hindrance I personally confront most frequently in my patient population.

Mom struggles with home life and eating becomes a source of comfort that she doesn’t know how to surrender. Because of this, she can’t change her food buying habits and kids have access to far too many types of junk food. No matter what programs are available at school, her kids will struggle to avoid overeating at home. (Not to appear sexist; the same, of course, is true of fathers who overeat.)

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP OVERWEIGHT KIDS

I have a few suggestions for parents struggling with overweight kids.

1. Take baby steps in changing eating and exercise patterns at home so that you don’t become discouraged.

Decide to go outside to walk with your child once or twice per week and write it on the calendar. Make it happen, even if you take only 15 minutes. Getting kids outside is the hard part; but once they get used to it, they want to do it more often.

2. Don’t take kids to the grocery store with you.

Even diligent moms will be talked into buying foods they shouldn’t because kids have a way of working their magic on us. So go alone. Make sure you bring home only foods that you want to buy.

3. Make a grocery list.

If you stick to a list you make before you shop, you won’t buy extras that you don’t need and that aren’t good for your kids. When we go to a store without a list, it’s amazing how much extra junk we can buy.

4. Never go to the store hungry.

I have literally grabbed bags of cookies off of shelves and ripped them open before checkout in order to satisfy cravings. Don’t set yourself up to do dumb things like this. Eat before you go.

5. Ask yourself tough questions.

If you overeat, why do you? Are you eating to fill a void, a hurt, or a boredom with life?  Many of us try to fix problems in our kids that are simply a reflection of problems we have. 

So be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid. You can feel better and you can change. I will guarantee that once you begin to take care of yourself and your own health, you will make your home a place where your kids will do the same. The adage “if Mom ain’t happy, then no one’s happy” is true for eating as well.

IF YOU, MOM, ARE HAPPY AND EATING WELL, CHANCES ARE MUCH HIGHER THAT YOUR KIDS WILL BE, TOO.

Often the first step to helping our kids is helping ourselves. If you struggle with poor eating habits, get help. You deserve it. Not only will you help your kids live a healthier, longer life, but you will be around to enjoy it with them.

Don’t wait for the government, your child’s school, or a community program to tell you what to do for your kids; you do it. You know what you need to do but you may feel that you can’t. This is a lie.

You can do anything that you set your mind on doing.

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