HEALTHY LIVING: Give kids healthy living altneratives

By Diane Gray

For The Courier-Herald

As a parent, you want the best for your child – good grades, good looks, popularity and happiness. You also want to protect your child from health risks like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as from the ridicule of other children.

Before putting your child on a diet, stop and consider why he or she might be overweight and what effects the diet will have.

An overweight child may be judged as lazy or undisciplined, but this is rarely true. Many factors can contribute to obesity. One is genetics – children with overweight parents tend to be overweight. Another is lifestyle – with TV and video games, children get less exercise then they need. 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 for which they hunger.

Few parents realize that by putting a child on a diet, they are sending a very negative message. It is frightening to be denied food. Children may feel shame for not having “lived up” to the expectations of their parents.

Most parent-imposed diets simply do not work. Children are experts at sneaking food or finding other sources, like a friend. Even a guilty parent sometimes provides the snacks. In the long term, the effort that children put into getting food may cause them to become even more focused on eating.

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, try these positive steps toward healthy eating habits:


Emphasize regular mealtimes. Try limiting your child’s eating to breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon snack. Allow him or her to eat as much as they want of the food you provide. Make the food taste good and nutritious. Most children learn to stop eating when they are no longer hungry.


Make mealtimes enjoyable. Avoid commenting on your child’s eating habits and do not spoil family mealtimes with family disputes.


Be sure your own eating habits set a good example for your children.


Encourage exercise. This may involve  nothing more than turning off the TV. Once they become bored enough, children will learn to amuse themselves without it and in a more active way. You also may be able to help your child find an active, enjoyable sport or group activity. Make yourself available to participate without being pushy.


Listen to your child. Make sure he or she gets an extra measure of your love and approval. 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 be an important first step toward reasonable weight management.


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