Q: Do you have any advice for a parent of a pre-teen child who’s extremely overweight? I want to help him lose weight while he’s young before it becomes a serious problem later in life.
A: It’s great that you want to see your child live a long and healthy life – starting now! Childhood obesity is a serious problem. Children who are clinically obese – an issue we’d encourage you to discuss with your family physician – are at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, vascular disease, stroke, arthritis, and early death. That’s not to mention the hit it puts on their self-esteem.
Here are five things you can focus on: 1) better nutritional choices; 2) an increase in physical activity; 3) eating meals together as a family; 4) better rest and recreation habits; and 5) wiser media choices. It’s especially important to make this a family project. One of the first things we’d recommend is to turn off the TV and begin taking walks in the evening. By working together your son won’t feel “singled out,” and it’s much more likely he’ll embrace the dramatic lifestyle changes he needs to make.
You might also want to talk to your son’s teacher once school resumes. He or she might be able to encourage and incorporate healthy habits across the curriculum so that the entire class benefits. You can also maintain a degree of control over his caloric intake by packing him a nutritious food for recess and by restricting money that might be used to buy unhealthy snacks from school vending machines.
Most important, keep in mind that your child needs an overdose of your love and acceptance throughout this process. Do everything you can to help him lose weight, but make it clear that your affections do not depend upon his success in achieving that goal.
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