Is your child’s weight grading your parenting?

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While she was getting her weekly groceries, Carol noticed a man following her and her 10-year-old daughter around the store, watching everything she put in her cart. “You’re not feeding that crap to your kid are you?” It wasn’t until the store manager ousted the grocery heckler that she could shop in peace. But it shook her.

Parents are well versed in the various programs geared to help stave off the obesity epidemic. From custody cases being decided because of obesity, to public schools rewarding kids for being average weight – positive praise can turn into judgment when the finger of blame is aimed at families.

Judgment for the overweight is prevalent but also true for the very underweight child. Andy, 12, was always skinny, but healthy, according to medical testing. His mother, Jessica, says, “I know the school thought I just wasn’t feeding him.”

Randy Calvert, Program Manager of Metabolism, Exercise and Nutrition of McMaster Children’s Hospital says, “It’s fairly rare to see a whole family of normal weight with one overweight child – it’s modelling behaviour at its best. We’re seeing kids as young as eight who have either type 2 diabetes or who are in the state of prediabetes; who have hypertension, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. It could be that 25 years from now, parents and their kids will be competing for the same hospitals and resources because both have the same significant cardiovascular disease.”

“However, there is positive news, too. We’ve seen a lot of kids through our nutrition program and, over time, modest changes in lifestyle can normalize the hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cholesterol and so on. It can be fixed.”

While parents have the responsibility to support their children in developing a healthier lifestyle, Calvert says it is important to remove the sense of blame and to focus, instead, on solutions. Realize that how you live your life will show up in your kids’ jean size.

He says, “We really have to be careful not to blame parents. When we have children of our own, no one really teaches us how to raise kids; we learn by past experience. Even in a family where some of the members are normal weight, they’re not going to be worse off if they get some more physical activity and eat healthier foods to help an overweight member of the family.

“None of us loses if we adopt a healthier lifestyle. We all stand to gain.”

Tips for struggling parents


… beat yourself up if your child is over- or underweight.  It’s in the past.  Move forward. … become a role model.  Kids learn from their parents.  Choosing healthy activity and food choices are the key and great for you and your kids.

… diet.  Following a certain stringent lifestyle will result in positive changes – but only as long as the plan is followed. Making better choices, consistently, is the better, lasting option. … make it a lifestyle.  Calvert says, “We had the model in the 1970s. We had less access to fast food, less access to sugar and our kids played outdoors. We need to get back to that.”

… load kids up on fruit juices. Parents think that 100 percent natural unsweetened fruit juice is healthy, but it has almost the same amount of sugar in volume as regular pop does. … give kids fresh fruit.  With healthy fibre and nutrients, the double-punch of potent vitamins and minerals are also sustenance – and deliciously natural.

… punish.  Living well doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat fast food or drink soft drinks, and that we shouldn’t ever drink juice or watch television.  Anything is fine in moderation.

… control what kids are accessing.  Limiting what is available in the home minimizes unhealthy choices.
… expect a miracle in a week. Calvert says, “We can’t all be like people on the Biggest Loser and lose 35 pounds every two weeks. We need to admit it took a while to become overweight and accept that it’ll take awhile to reverse.”

… ever call your child fat or tell them they need to go on a diet. Just change, without comment, your family’s lifestyle habits.

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