The childhood obesity crisis has been in the news for many months now. We know that obese children face certain difficulties with health in adulthood. Heart disease, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep disorders, liver disease, orthopedic complications, and mental health problems are just some of the health complications of carrying excess weight. (Future of Children, Childhood Obesity).
Despite all the public attention and concern, policymakers are uncertain how best to combat childhood obesity. Researchers have identified many possible causes of the obesity epidemic, but the research base on how to prevent obesity is still limited, making it difficult to decide how best to proceed. With state and federal budgets already strained, it is important to develop programs and policies that are effective and can be implemented at reasonable cost. Parents play an important role in these efforts.
In a recent article "Talking to your Kids About Weight Loss," Chris Iliades, writes that "in a country where 17 percent of all children are obese and another 17 percent are overweight, childhood obesity should be a topic of conversation for families. But according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, how we talk about childhood obesity could be just as important as whether we're talking about it. According to the study, 36 percent of parents would react to words like "fat" and "obesity" by putting their child on a strict diet and another 35 percent would go off in search of a different doctor -- and neither of these reactions are best for a child's health.."
As the authors of the Future of Children's Childhood Obesity chapter, "The Role of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity," caution, "even though childhood obesity experts discourage dieting, parents who feel the need to control a child's weight commonly encourage dieting. Studies on dieting behaviors consistently report that their parents' inducement to diet is the most significant factor in causing children to begin dieting. Their parents' direct verbal encouragement is more influential than the parents' own dieting behaviors. Many adolescents whose parents urged them to diet report engaging in unhealthful dieting behaviors. Focusing on dieting for weight control may overemphasize the thinness ideal and over time may even lead to an increased risk for obesity. It is important for parents of overweight children to learn about the dangers of dieting and to talk with their child's doctor or health care provider about ways to promote healthful habits." (to view the source for this quote, please see page1 75 of this article.)
The authors conclude that "parents play a critical role at home in preventing childhood obesity, with their role changing at different stages of their child's development. By better understanding their own role in influencing their child's dietary practices...parents can learn how to create a healthful nutrition environment in their home, provide opportunities for physical activity, discourage sedentary behaviors such as TV viewing, and serve as role models themselves."