Parents Can Help Kids Avoid Emotional Impact of Obesity

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • Kids who are overweight or obese often get a head-start on developing a lifetime of health problems. These kids are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, trouble sleeping due to apnea, and heartburn, among many other uncomfortable and dangerous ailments.

    A new study in the journal Pediatrics took a closer look at the emotional effects that can also come with being heavy early in life.

    The researchers included more than 3,000 Australian kids. They first checked their BMI - which is a shorthand way of determining whether they were overweight - when they were 4 or 5. They revisited the kids when they were 8 or 9 years old, and also asked their teachers and parents how they got along with their peers. Those who were already heavy when they were kindergarten-aged were 15 to 20 percent more likely to have trouble interacting with other kids later in grade school.

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    Overweight kids can have trouble fitting in with other children (who may give them a hard time because of their weight), and kids who are shunned by their peers might become unhappy and overweight. And the relationship could go both ways, of course.

    These findings suggest that a lot of kids could be bearing a heavy emotional burden along with their excess weight. Recent statistics show that 17 percent of kids and teenagers are obese, and their numbers have skyrocketed in recent years.

    The good news is that parents can help protect their kids from having to struggle with the unhappiness and poor health that can accompany obesity. Here's how:

    • Limit screen time. Kids see a lot of advertising on television for foods that aren't particularly wholesome. And while kids are watching TV or movies or playing video games, they're not playing and burning off lots of calories. Child health experts urge parents to set limits on this screen time and encourage their kids to enjoy more active play.
    • Teach good eating habits. Children don't typically gravitate toward whole grains and vegetables on their own, nor are they likely to turn down candy and snacks when they're available. Make a point to cook nutritious meals, and minimize the amount of junk food you keep in the home. Ask your kids to help you at mealtime, and let them vote on the (healthy) options you'll serve. Try to get the whole family to sit down together at mealtime when possible, and use this time to ask your kids how they're feeling about their lives.
    • Set a good example. Let your kids see you taking steps to stay fit and healthy, too. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week, and don't forget that you can get this activity by hiking around a park or playing catch with your kids, or riding bikes or walking around the neighborhood as a family.

    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.

Published On: October 26, 2011