Tackling the delicate subject of childhood obesity

Q: I would like to talk to you about our 10-year-old son. He seems to be putting on a bit of weight. His dad says that this is nothing about which to be concerned, but I worry. I don’t think that overweight children are necessarily healthy. The problem is that I do not know what to do about it.

Do you have some ideas for us?

A: I am sure that you know that childhood obesity is reaching almost epidemic proportions in many countries throughout the developed world. Kids are often overweight, if not obese.

Part of the problem with childhood obesity is that often the parents of these children do not appreciate how serious it is. Many doubt that their children are overweight, let alone obese. They just do not see it.

If you are at all concerned about your son’s weight why don’t you and he stop in at your local public health clinic and chat with either the nutritionist or one of the public health nurses to get an objective, or outside, assessment of his physical disposition. You could find the results surprising.

If your son is either overweight or obese your first task is to create a warm and loving, accepting environment to support him as all of you work to help him get rid of that excess body fat. Shame, guilt and self-degradation will not help him lose weight.

Positive reinforcement for all that he does to try to control his body weight is much more effective. Smiles and hugs along with some good old-fashion romping with Mom and Dad are just wonderful.

Weight loss is more encompassing than simple diet control might suggest. Overweight children are known to be less active than are other children, they struggle with sleep deprivation and the food they eat usually lacks nutrition.

To help your son, you may have to restructure your entire family. The whole thing works better if all of you have regular bed times with private and personal routines specifically set to help your son. He might read, listen to quiet music or chat about his day with either you or his dad while resting in bed. He should be retiring into a tidy bedroom in a home that is quieter in the later evening.

Don’t leave exercise to chance, or to the possibility that kids on their own are necessarily active and exuberant. For at least the next little while, have regular exercise routines built into your daily activity schedule. Your son needs to move around.

And why stop there. You may have to clean up your entire household. Check your fridge and pantry for processed foods. The fewer of them that are on hand, disappearing as they will with those cupboards of junk foods, the greater are the chances that everyone in your family is going to take a huge nutritional step forward. In fact as you move toward a healthier structure to support your son, everyone else in the family benefits as well. It is a plus-plus for your whole family and that alone makes all of it worth the while.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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