How to tackle your child’s weight

Are you worried about your child’s weight but afraid to harm their self-esteem by tackling the subject? We give you tips on how best to go about addressing this sensitive issue

Around a third of UK children are overweight – one of the highest rates in Europe. At least one primary school child in every seven is now classed as obese and a recent study claimed that almost half of all British children will be dangerously overweight by 2050. Increasing rates of childhood obesity also factor in the rising incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure among children.

What lies behind child obesity? Our diet is notoriously bad for starters. Children who spend their evenings in front of the TV aren’t only missing out on the exercise that could help them keep off the pounds – they’re also indulging in mindless snacking and constantly tempted by commercials for junk food.

To make matters worse, many schools offer no opportunities for physical education on a daily basis.

If your child is overweight, how best can you approach the problem without harming their fragile self-esteem and sending the signal that their worth depends on looks?

Don’t be critical

Criticising your child’s weight is unlikely to encourage them to give up the bad in favour of healthy, nutritious food and exercise – instead, they're likely to resort to unhealthy dieting. One US study from 2006 indicated that around two-thirds of girls and a third of boys had taken up smoking or were skipping meals or fasting in order to lose weight. Conversely, they may turn to food to comfort herself.

Demonstrate that she’s way more than her looks

Make sure your child knows that their appearance isn’t everything by celebrating their personality, strengths, talents and skills.

Make food the hero, not the villain

Don’t refer to food in negative terms – for example, as the means to get fat or stay slim. Instead, emphasise how good healthy food gives us energy, strengthens our muscles and bones, and boosts brainpower.

Make healthy foods available

Keep the fruit bowl full of pre-washed fruit so they can help themselves; chop it into snack-size portions and store it in bags on a refrigerator shelf where they can reach in and grab it if they're hungry between meals.

Let them regulate their own appetites

Don’t enforce a clean plate rule: they need to be able to recognise the internal signal their bodies send when they're full, instead of being conditioned to clear their plate out of habit.

Model a healthy attitude yourself when it comes to food and exercise

Never use the phrase “straight to my hips” in your child's presence, avoid junk food yourself and don’t let on if you’re dieting. Focus on exercise as a means of boosting health and vitality, not as a means of losing weight.

Related links

Protect your child from obesity: How can you avoid dangerous food habits and stop your child from becoming another statistic? 
Eating right – the teenage years: The teen years can be hell when it comes to food, but it's more important than ever to eat well. Supernanny expert Yvonne Wake explains why... 
Meal deal: the facts about a balanced diet: Over 90% of children don’t get enough fruit and vegetables in their diet: Yvonne Wake, Supernanny’s nutritionist, gives a step by step account of what kids need in their diet and how we can provide it. /Advice/-/Food-and-Nutrition/-/4-to-13-years/Meal-Deal-the-facts-about-a-balanced-diet.aspx

Find out more

National Obesity Forum: Information and advice on healthy weight loss for children.
5 a Day: NHS campaign to encourage healthy eating among children, with meal tips for mums and advice on portion size.

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