Children's Weight Is A Difficult Issue For Parents To Address: How To Handle It Sensitively

'Conversations should be about feeling good, not looking good.'

With calls for the government to “try harder” to tackle childhood obesity and Change4Life campaigns educating parents and kids about leading healthier lifestyles, weight is not an issue parents can ignore.

Mums and dads know only too well how important a healthy lifestyle is to give their kids the best start in life.

But having these conversations with children without causing them to become overly focused on their weight can be tricky, especially as a study in 2016 found kids as young as three have body image issues.

And national health bodies are aware of the difficult position parents are in.

“Overweight children may face stigma and bullying, as well as health issues such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers, so it’s important to make healthier choices,” Eustace De Sousa, national lead for children, young people and families at Public Health England (PHE), told HuffPost UK.

“Discussing a child’s weight can be a sensitive subject - parents are the best judge of whether to talk to their child, and how to go about it.”

“We’re not telling parents what to do, but positive language and making lifestyle changes as a family may help.”

PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa via Getty Images

According to PHE some parents decide to talk to their children about weight and discuss the changes they need to make together, and others decide not to talk about it and just make subtle changes in their family’s lifestyle.

When and how you do this is completely up to the parent, but the most important thing is to ensure your child knows you just want them to be healthy and happy.

If you do decide to bring it up, handle it sensitively.

Parents are advised to take care with the language they use and ensure they keep it as positive as possible.

Focusing on terms such as “healthier weight” and “healthier lifestyle” is better than using the term “overweight”.

Jenny Rosborough, nutritionist and campaign manager at Action on Sugar told HuffPost UK it is important not to make the child feel like weight is a subject that can’t or shouldn’t be spoken about.

“How parents talk about it is really important,” she said. “For example, it is never helpful to speak to a child about their weight in a way that makes them feel ashamed of themselves or their eating habits, or refers to aspects of their personality in a negative way.

“Parents should avoid criticising their own weight in front of their child too.”

Speak about lifestyle changes rather than measurements.

Rosborough said focusing on lifestyle changes “rather than weight status” when having these conversations is important to ensure your child understands health and happiness are what matters.

“Overall, it’s important to focus on healthy behaviours,” she explained. “Conversations about weight should focus on steps towards living a healthier lifestyle and be about feeling good, not looking good.”

“'It is never helpful to speak to a child about their weight in a way that makes them feel ashamed of themselves."”

- Jenny Rosborough, nutritionist and campaign manager at Action on Sugar

PHE suggests some lifestyle changes you can speak to kids about within this conversation may include: eating more more fruit and vegetables, and having fewer sugary drinks and snacks; more physical activity, such as getting outside as a family for walks, playground visits and kicking a ball about in the local park; getting more sleep and having regular bedtimes.

All of these changes can help achieve healthier eating and support moving towards a healthy weight.

Make having a healthy lifestyle a family affair.

“Eating healthily and being active is a whole family affair,” a spokesperson from HENRY, an organisation focusing on healthy starts in life, told HuffPost UK.

“It is best to avoid singling out one particular child for different treatment than the others, instead adopt a whole-family approach.

“Parents are really influential role models for their children so it’s important that parents find opportunities for the whole family to get active together doing things that everyone enjoys and that they model enjoyment of healthy food.

“Parents could start with thinking about meals that the whole family likes and think about how they can make them healthier. HENRY has lots of simple, healthy and low-cost recipes online.”

Rosborough agreed, adding: “Find healthy behaviours that the family can engage in together, such as preparing and trying different nutritious, tasty foods together as a family and leading an active lifestyle.”

Educate yourself as parents.

PHE advise parents to educate themselves on ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the family, such as using the Change4Life Food Scanner app, which reveals the sugar, salt, fat and calories in everyday food and drinks.

If you are worried about your child’s weight, speak to your GP or practice nurse who can give you further advice and support.

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