Talking About the Problem
For parents of the 25 million overweight or obese kids in the U.S., it's a common dilemma: If your child is fat, she probably knows it. Classmates may tease her, and she probably thinks her clothes are too tight when she looks in the mirror. So when you broach the topic, it's important to be compassionate. "How you discuss a child's weight problem can make a huge difference in helping her deal with it," says Jamie Calabrese, MD, medical director of the Children's Institute in Pittsburgh and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Task Force on Obesity.
Bring It Up Gently
Look for a natural time to talk about your child's weight in a low-key way. After a checkup, you might say, "You heard the doctor say you're gaining weight too quickly. Do you want to talk about what we can do to help?"
If your child seems receptive, you can explain that he needs to get exercise every day so his body burns up the energy (food) he eats. Then offer some ideas, such as going to the playground three times a week or signing up for a sports class.
Let him know that being active is something you can work on together: "How about we take a bike ride together after dinner twice a week? It'll be fun, and we can both get in shape." Making fitness a group project, whether you're washing the car, playing freeze tag, or signing up for a family swim, will help your child stick to a routine. Keep the goals modest at first so he doesn't think of exercise as a chore or punishment.
Follow a similar approach toward food. If your kid eats ice cream every day, switch to a low-fat version or sorbet or limit him to three servings a week, and give him fruit on the other nights. Remind him why you're changing the family's habits: "Sweets taste good, but they're not very healthy. If we want your body to grow strong, we need to make smart choices." Encourage good eating by keeping junk food and soda out of your house and making your child feel like part of the process ("Let's go to the store and pick out some healthy foods").