Try to Focus on Health, Not Appearance

A recent study suggests that there is both a right way and a wrong way to persuade your children to eat healthy and help prevent obesity.

Instead of talking about needed weight loss or how food connects with fatness, parents should focus on talking about eating healthier.

Dr. Jerica Berge of University of Minnesota Medical School states, “A lot of parents are aware of the obesity problems in the U.S. – it’s everywhere you turn – but they wonder how to talk about it with their children.”  She encourages that parents “tell kids to eat more fruits and vegetables because eating them will make them healthy and strong.  Don’t connect these conversations to weight and size.”

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, child obesity has more than tripled in the youth of America over the last 30 years.  This has had an impact on children’s health, with conditions that are usually seen in adults, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure which are now being seen in children.

From data, conversations about eating that focused on children needing to lose weight were associated to a higher chance of problem dieting and other unhealthy eating behaviors.  Parents who talked about healthy eating and lifestyle were less likely to have their children engage in unhealthy eating behaviors.

Berge mentioned that even if parents say all the right things about eating healthy, it won’t matter much to their children if they see their parents ignoring their own advice.   It’s “do as I do,” she mentioned.  “Modeling does have a big role in showing kids the type of behavior that you want them to take on.”  She also added that these conversations should happen more than once, they should be continuous.

Dr. Ronald Feinstein, an adolescent medicine specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center said,  “Telling people that they are fat or overweight is not in the best interest of the adolescents.”  He adds, “We need to focus on healthy lifestyle, and parents need to lead by example.”  This would include appropriate meal planning and having healthy food available.  He adds that there might be a need for a little troubleshooting.  For example, “At a restaurant, quietly ask the server not to put the bread basket out, or hand out one slice to everyone and then have it removed, so it’s the family making the decision and no one feels left out,” he said.  Also he adds, “Set an example and avoid putting kids in a position where they have to make poor choices.”

Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness agreed that weight usually is not an easy subject to discuss with adolescents.  “I always try to focus on health, not appearance,” he added.  He mentioned that the new findings, “lend further weight to the importance of finding careful loving, supportive and appropriate ways of discussing health with kids.”

This is in reference to Focus on Health, Not Fat, in Food Talks With Kids.