Focus on health, not weight
Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 40 years, hitting one in five school-aged children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Does obesity prevention begin with the bottle?) Excess weight can increase a child’s risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, says Maryam Kebbe, a researcher on children with obesity at the University of Alberta in Canada. At the same time, eating disorders and body positivity have become important topics for today’s youth. So if your child is overweight, how can you address it with them? First, focus on health, not weight. “It’s a common mistake to focus on the weight itself—this is usually counterproductive,” says Elizabeth Shepard, MD, pediatrician, nutrition, and obesity specialist at Stanford Children’s Health. “The focus should be on action, i.e. incorporating lifestyle changes that lead to the desired outcome of a healthier weight.” For example, try talking about the amazing things healthy foods can do for the body, like give you energy to run, jump, and play—so when you start serving them, there’ll be a positive association.
Don’t mention “dieting”
Eating healthy isn’t “dieting,” so avoid using that word. “Changes have to be sustainable over the long term to be effective,” Dr. Shepard says. “Making changes in food is not ‘going on a diet.'” Stress that new foods will be delicious, and try some out until you find healthier options your child truly enjoys—this way, they are part of the decision-making process, too. Because you’re making changes as a family, your child won’t feel singled out or shamed for what they can or can’t eat. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that research shows dieting (defined as calorie restriction with a goal of weight loss) is actually a risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders among teenagers. So, avoid talking about calories or numbers—just focus on healthy meals and snacks. Here are 37 things nutritionists won’t tell you for free.