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How to Speak to Your Child About Obesity

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How to Speak to Your Child About Obesity

Nov 25, 2019

Bringing up health concerns like body weight can be a challenge. It can be even trickier when speaking with a child. Dr. Cindy Gellner recommends a few strategies to constructively speak about lifestyle changes without damaging a child’s self-esteem or triggering a parent.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Bringing up health concerns with anyone close to you can be a challenge, but when it comes to parents bringing up concerns that their child may be overweight, it can be even trickier.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the "Healthy Kids Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Parents often ask during a visit, "So how's my child's weight?" Sometimes it's just fine. Sometimes they think their child is just fine, but their child is actually overweight and that gets us into a whole different conversation. As a pediatrician, it's my job to tell you and your child the facts about their health. And while I don't sugarcoat it, if your child is overweight, I do find that there is a very tactful way to discuss it and turn what could be a degrading self-esteem harming and accusatory conversation into more talking about, yes, your child is overweight. Let's talk about what they like to eat, how active they are, your family genetics, and how we can make sure your child gets to a healthy weight.

You've probably heard me talk about childhood obesity a lot on The Scope. It's an area that I focus a lot of time on in my clinic. I've gotten pretty good at talking to families and kids about weight. There are so many factors involved when talking to a family about their child's weight. Are the parents overweight? Are there cultural or ethnic considerations that need to be kept in mind? Can the family afford to feed their child healthy foods, or are they struggling just to buy ramen noodles? Is their child such a picky eater that it becomes a battle and the parents just end up giving their child whatever they will eat?

When I talk to a child and their family about weight concerns, I spend a lot of time with them and try to come up with solutions that work for their home situation and their child. There isn't a good cookie cutter fix for childhood obesity. Not only is it hard to get some kids to eat healthy and be active, but there is a huge self-esteem component when a child weighs more than their friends.

Telling a child they are overweight can really bring them down if you do it wrong. If you say, let me show you how you're growing. This graph shows that your weight is more than it should be for your height. So let's talk about what you're eating. Do you like fruits and vegetables? Are you drinking soda or juice a lot? What do you like to do for fun? And let's make a plan together to get your body healthy.

I've been doing visits with kids specifically to talk about their weight for years, and every patient I talk to leaves with a smile and a plan on how to be healthy and they feel empowered that they can do it. They are in charge of their body. They follow up with me regularly, and we see how we can make them successful in getting their weight where it should be. Sometimes it doesn't work, the kids aren't motivated, and the parents just drop the subject. However, for the most part, kids really want to be a normal size, not overweight, and they're open about having this delicate conversation if you bring it to their level and provide positive encouragement.

So if you're concerned that your child may be overweight and you don't know how to bring it up with your child, talk to your pediatrician. We understand how kids think and can help start that conversation in a positive way.

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