Childhood obesity: Having "The Talk" with kids can head off trouble(Read article summary)
Childhood obesity, studies show, is perhaps harder for parents to have "The Talk" about with their kids than it is to have "The Talk" about sex and drugs. But it does work, if parents walk their talk.
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She was concerned about her daughterâ€™s weight. Still, she didnâ€™t want to hurt Ramseyâ€™s self-esteem or say anything that could spark issues of negative body image.
So Ms. Smith decided to frame the conversation around being healthy â€” and not about weight.
â€śI talked about being healthy and about making changes we could do as a family,â€ť Smith said. â€śI told her I want her to live a long, happy, healthy life.â€ť Since that conversation about two years ago, Smith and her daughter, now 13, have adopted a healthy lifestyleÂ overhaul.
They started with drinking water instead of soda and eating more fruits and vegetables. They now often break out into 15-minute-long dance sessions at home, and they are planning to soon run together in a 5K. Childrenâ€™s Healthcare of Atlanta wants to help more of these talks â€“ and transformations â€“ take place.
Today, the hospital launches a new Strong4Life websiteÂ providingÂ parentsÂ with tools and tips for having â€śThe Talk.â€ť The websiteâ€™s offerings include a database of doctors specially trained to counsel families struggling with weight issues, healthy recipes and an online health assessment. Itâ€™s part of Childrenâ€™s far-reaching efforts to fight obesity. The hospital has a Health4Life Clinic for overweight children. It also runs a special summer camp for overweight children and trains pediatricians on how to discuss the often-sensitive subject of weight.
â€śWe really wantÂ parentsÂ to start with themselves and for them to have a healthy conversation with themselves about family ... and the kind of role models they want to be ... and then talk to their kids,â€ť said Stephanie Walsh, the medical director of child wellness at Childrenâ€™s.
This latest push to fight obesity comes about a year after Childrenâ€™s controversial ad campaign featuring black-and-white photos of obese children on billboards with messages such as: â€śBeing fat takes the fun out of being a kidâ€ť and â€śItâ€™s hard to be a little girl if youâ€™re not.â€ť Walsh said the campaign was designed to help people realize â€“ albeit in dramatic fashion â€“ that childhood obesity is a crisis.
The statistics are staggering. Nearly one in three children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia is considered to be overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Childrenâ€™s Health. Georgia ranks second in the country for childhood obesity (just behind Mississippi) according to â€śF as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens Americaâ€™s Future 2010,â€ť a report from the Trust for Americaâ€™s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Now, Childrenâ€™s wants to helpÂ parentsÂ make concrete lifestyle changes. Dr. Walsh suggestsÂ parentsÂ tackle health and obesity one small step at a time â€“ such as begin taking a family walk after dinner, drinking more water, limiting screen time to one hour a day.
Talking to kids about weight can be difficult forÂ parents. In fact, nearly one in fourÂ parentsÂ is uncomfortable talking about weight with his or her kids, according to a 2011 survey sponsored by WebMd and Sanford Health. ForÂ parentsÂ of teens, no other topic makes them cringe more. Not drugs (6 percent uncomfortable), not sex (12 percent uncomfortable).
Castulo Morales Alanis of Alpharetta, Ga. said he had no choice but to talk to his 8-year-old son, Jonathan, about obesity because his sonâ€™s feet hurt because his weight. Mr. Alanis and wife, Miguelina Arriaga, told their son they needed to make some healthy changes. About two months ago, with the help of Tthe Health4Life Clinic, Alanis and his son made some immediate changes, including switching from cooking in corn oil to olive oil, and they now eat vegetables steamed â€“ not sauteed in oil. And while Jonathan used to go to the park to play only because hisÂ parentsÂ insisted he get some physical exercise, he now looks forward to playing outdoors with his friends. Alanis said talking to his son wasnâ€™t easy, but he tried to keep the conversation positive and said his son has come around.
Meanwhile, Kathleen Boehmig found herself needing to have â€śThe Talkâ€ť with her teenage son Allen, even though he is not overweight. Ms. Boehmig was concerned Allen, who is in the band and likes to play video games, was not getting enough exercise.
â€śWe tell him that .... 'We want you to live a long, healthy life,' but itâ€™s hard to impress that upon a teenager because it seems so far into the distance,â€ť she said.
But something clicked when a veterinarian pointed out that the familyâ€™s golden retriever, Cody, needed more exercise.
â€śAllen has a big heart and loves the dog more than anything,â€ť Boehmig said, â€śand he now walks the dog every day.â€ť
To start â€śThe Talkâ€ť with yourself: Honestly evaluate your familyâ€™s habits and the kind of role model you want to be.
Think healthy behaviors, not weight. This should not be a discussion about anyoneâ€™s weight â€“ itâ€™s a discussion about making good choices.
Keep goals reasonable. If your family drinks sugary beverages every day, it would be unrealistic to set a goal to not drink them at all. Make small changes for positive progress.
Nobodyâ€™s perfect. If you have a bad day,Â the next day is a new day to start again.