Although there seems to be non-stop discussion about the influence modern day society has on our children, one fact remains the same. Parents and caregivers have the biggest impact on a child's life. When it comes to helping obese children lose weight and lead healthier lives, it's parents who decide what food is purchased, and how much activity a child gets. If parents are not available, then a caregiver makes those importance decisions.
For an obese child to have a real chance at losing weight and living a healthier life, parents, caregivers and other family members should be involved in treatment programs designed to help their children.
The American Heart Association released a scientific statement today on the role of parents, families and caregivers in the treatment of obese kids.
"In many cases, the adults in a family may be the most effective change agents to help obese children attain and maintain a healthier weight," Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
"To do so, the adults may need to modify their own behavior and try some research-based strategies," added Faith, who is the chair of the writing group that published an AHA scientific statement in the Jan. 23 issue of Circulation.
But let's be honest.... old habits are hard to break. That's why the more people you have working together the more likely you'll be successful in making the changes you want. Most families dealing with obesity really want to help family members lose weight - they often just need a better game plan to help guide them.
One of the most important messages to parents is that they need to lead by example. It is entirely unrealistic for children to change their food and physical activity behaviors on their own. Too often, during the week, family meals consist of high calorie-high / high-fat fast foods. Then the weekend is an all-you-can-eat buffet style breakfast and dinner.
Lack of exercise only adds to the difficulty in dropping unhealthy pounds.
Technology has gotten a lot of the blame for keeping kids in chairs or on couches, but it can also be beneficial.
Computers and smart phones may be beneficial in self-monitoring and goal setting for children and their parents. Games such as "Dance Dance Revolution" along with "Wii Fit"and a host of others get kids and even adults up and moving. In lieu of blaming technology for being a culprit, perhaps viewing it as an opportunity to reach children and teens in the medium they understand may be the best way to communicate healthful behaviors.
Faith adds "Teaching families to identify how many calories they take in from food, and burn during exercise, is a core component to most family treatment programs that have been studied. Parents and children become more 'calorie-literate' in a sense, so they better understand how many calories are in a burger vs. apple vs. water bottle. This knowledge sets the stage for behavior change, and can be an eye opener for many parents."
Faith and his colleagues identified a number of strategies that have been linked to better outcomes, including:
Working together as a family to identify specific behaviors that need to be changed.
Setting clearly defined goals -- such as limiting TV viewing to no more than two hours per day -- and monitoring progress.
Creating a home environment that encourages healthier choices, such as having fruit in the house instead of high-calorie desserts or snacks.
Making sure parents commend children when they make progress, and don't criticize them if they do backslide. Instead, helping children identify ways to make different decisions if they're faced with the same kind of situation again.
Never using food as a punishment or reward.
Keeping track of progress toward goals.
"While these strategies were implemented by health care professionals in a treatment program, the psychological principles on which they are based provide sound guidance for families of obese children as well," Faith said.
A healthy life starts in infancy. For too many years, people just didn't know much about the nutritional aspect of eating. You're hungry-you eat. But now, there is an abundance of information, millions of studies that have been conducted, and a food's calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium count is on every label or at your fingertips on the computer. The result of not paying attention to what we put in our mouths is having a devastating impact on families' lives.
There are many ways to get up-to-date on your child's health. Pediatricians can be critical in the education of parents and caregivers in the optimum feeding and physical activity behaviors for raising healthy children. Daycare centers, WIC and even grandparents can play a positive role in influencing health outcomes in children.
Denial and ignorance will not make obesity go away. Overweight and obese children seldom outgrow it and they carry that weight-and all its health consequences-into adulthood. Make health a priority for the entire family, and with education, support and good planning everyone will benefit now and for generations to come.