Talk to your pediatrician about other healthy habits for your kids and teens at their annual visit, and start living a healthier lifestyle as a family today!
Weight can be a very sensitive topic for people. And if you’re like me, you were always taught growing up not to ask someone about their age or their weight. It’s rude! However, we are currently in an obesity epidemic and even as physicians, it can be difficult to discuss such a sensitive topic. But that’s our job! One of the reasons I love pediatrics is that kids are incredibly impressionable. We really have the opportunity to affect change and to teach healthy habits that they will take into adulthood. And I’ve learned with my own kids that they tend to listen to other adults more than their parents. So even if it’s a difficult conversation, it’s one that’s worth having.
Whether a child is overweight or underweight, when I discuss weight with patients and parents I always try to frame things as “healthy” and “unhealthy”. We talk about food, activities, and how some things are better for our bodies than others. We need to put in healthy foods and participate in physical activities if we want our bodies to feel good and not get sick. I tell parents to try to avoid words such as “thin, skinny, fat, or big” as these words focus more on appearance and less on overall wellness. Ultimately our goal is for our kids to be happy and healthy, not for them to fit in a certain size of clothing, or for the scale to read a specific number.
While we all know the standard “healthy diet and exercise” advice, such a vague statement can make implementing changes overwhelming. Make these healthy habits fun. Kids, especially younger kids, love to feel involved in the process. Let them come with you to the grocery store and pick out some new fruits to try. Let them make a rainbow with vegetables of different colors that they can eat for a snack. Pair these new foods with staples that they already know and love, such as nut butters or yogurt. When they get to have a say in what goes on the plate, it is much more likely that they will be excited about it and actually eat it. Presenting food in a fun way can also help. Arrange their plate to look like a smiley face or cut their sandwich with cookie cutters so their food is more fun and appealing.
Kids also love to help in the kitchen. Let them help you cook and mix ingredients together. Help them pour ingredients into the bowl. And even let them help cut ingredients (with supervision of course)! My 3 year old loves to use his safety knife to help cut up fruits when he sees me preparing his meals, and he usually eats more of these foods when he gets to help make his plate. As you are cooking, talk about how certain foods will help their body grow big and strong. Older children and teens can have an even bigger role in the kitchen. Let them choose a meal, pick out ingredients, and cook it. This can be a great teaching opportunity and also a great bonding experience with your kids.
And while what we put into our bodies is very important, we also need to stay active. Exercise is great not only for our physical wellbeing but also our mental health. In the age of social media and technology, this is proving to be harder and harder, especially for older kids and teenagers. Some children are involved in sports which helps keep them engaged and encourages healthy habits. I try to explain to my athletes that they need to eat healthy and fuel their bodies correctly if they want to be at their best to play their sport. But for kids who are not involved in sports, even something as simple as going for a walk after dinner as a family is beneficial to their overall health. Ride bikes, play a family game of basketball, or just throw the baseball in the backyard. When parents get involved, it makes these activities more fun, and keeps the adults active as well.
There’s no one right or wrong way to live a healthy lifestyle, and these tips may not be right for everyone, but introducing healthy habits to our kids from an early age can affect them well into adulthood. If you are at all worried that your child may be at an unhealthy weight or just aren’t sure how to approach this topic, please see your pediatrician and start having those difficult conversations.