A friend of mine knows her soon-to-be-teenage daughter is overweight. She's recognized it for a long time now, but she's been hoping the problem would go away and that she'd 'grow out of' her 'puppy-fat' phase.
Recently, she's found herself wiping away her daughter's tears when she's come home from Saturday afternoon 'clothes shopping' trips with her school friends, upset about the fact that they 'are all skinnier than her and look good in anything they try on'.
My friend hugs her daughter, tells her she looks perfect as she is and that all her flat-chested friends probably wished they had a lovely shapely figure like hers anyway.
"We've had conversations about healthy eating and I drum that in her to her – that what you put inside your body impacts on your health," my friend says. "But I could never, ever mention the 'F' word to her. I could never tell her she's 'Fat'. Or overweight even.
"For one thing, I obviously don't want to hurt her feelings or make her even more self-conscious about how she looks.
"But more seriously, I don't want to make food a huge 'issue' for her. I don't want to trigger an eating disorder, make her anorexic or bulimic because so many girls seem to be going down that route these days. You have to be careful what you say.
"Instead, I try to help her make good food choices by highlighting the health aspect of what she eats, but I couldn't bear to criticise or find fault with her figure.
It's my job to make her feel good about herself and how she looks - that's what mothers are supposed to do.
A staggering one in three children in the UK are obese, so it would seem that a lot of us parents should be having the 'fat' conversation with our offspring.
But my friend isn't alone in her reluctance to bringing up the weighty issue of waist-size with her child. Thousands of parents around the country are floundering, fearful that, by broaching the subject of their child's weight , it will have negative consequences.
A new survey has found that 40 of parents who identify their child as being overweight or obese.
And over a third of parents feel that discussing their child's weight issues would lower their self-esteem.
The 'Let's Talk About Weight' survey, conducted by MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition...Do it!), the leading provider of free healthy lifestyle programmes for families and Netmums, also found that, despite having these concerns, 42 of parents with overweight children say they would like to receive more support about talking to their child about weight so that they can approach it correctly, without 'making things worse' for their child.
Typical comments from parents include: "I don't want to make a big issue out of it. I was overweight as a child and I don't want him to have these issues I have."
But one things for sure. Keeping completely schtum or ignoring the 'big' issue of your child's obesity can only lead to problems (think type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease).
With obesity affecting a third of the UK's children, we can no longer afford for weight to be a taboo subject,
says Dr Paul Chadwick, co-founder, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at MEND. "
"It's crucial that we talk about obesity in a helpful way with a focus on the positive aspects of being healthy rather than 'looking good'. At MEND we can support parents and health professionals to talk about weight in a way which supports children to become fitter, healthier and happier."
National Childhood Obesity Week runs from 2-8 July and if you're concerned about your child's weight and want advice on how to broach the subject, MEND offers the following advice:
Find out for sure if your child is overweight.
Many parents guess their child's 'weight status' just by looking at them, or comparing them to other children their age, rather than measuring their weight or getting it confirmed by a doctor. But research shows that estimating if a child is overweight by sight alone is generally inaccurate and usually leads parents of overweight children to mistakenly conclude they are a healthy weight. If left unrecognised, this can of course have major implications for the child's future health. To check if your child is a healthy weight, check online at www.mendcentral.org/bmicalculator.
Starting the conversation
Ideally, talking about the importance of making healthy choices should be part of everyday family life. But since this is not always possible, here's how to create a positive way of talking about the problem:
Prepare the ground..
by mentioning news stories and magazine articles to introduce the subject of the importance of being healthy. It may be helpful to do this for a couple of weeks before raising the issue more directly.
Emphasise health not attractiveness.
Be careful not to link being 'thin' with being successful or attractive – challenge these messages when you see them in the media. Make sure they understand that – for you –weight is simply a health issue.
Be a healthy role model.
Make sure that your child sees you making wise lifestyle choices and looking after your own body. Don't put yourself down about your own size in front of your children or they will learn to do the same.
The Government's Change4Life adverts are a fun way to show kids how important it is to be healthy. They're a good place to start – then ask your child if they want you to help them get fitter or healthier. If they're not interested immediately, don't worry. Tell them that you think it's important and then start making any changes that you can.
Don't blame or shame
Today's children are living in a toxic environment and making healthy lifestyle choices is difficult for everyone. Don't use words such as 'lazy' or 'greedy' as this will erode their self-esteem.
Serious problems are usually best solved by a sense of fun and creativity. There are now plenty of fun programmes out there to help you and your child learn together how to look after the family's health. Watch them together and help reinforce the messages in them in a fun way.
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