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Health & Parenting

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Expert Q&A: Helping Your Child With Weight Loss

An interview with David S. Ludwig, MD.

How can I get my kid to stop eating junk food? continued...

This doesn't mean that your kids can't have treats or sweets. If you want a splurge, go ahead -- just have it outside the home. Go out for a cup of ice cream once in a while and make it a celebration.

Now when you have teenagers, it gets trickier. Trying to prevent your teenager from going to fast-food restaurants with friends is going to be a losing battle. You should focus your energies on the areas where you do have control.

Are there other changes I should make to our home environment?

You have to de-emphasize television. TV is probably the worst influence -- worse than video games -- because not only are kids inactive when they watch it, but they're also likely to be snacking and getting exposed to junk food commercials. It's a triple whammy. So you definitely need to get the TVs out of your child's bedroom, the kitchen, and preferably the living room. Make watching TV less convenient and attractive.

Instead, create an active play area -- it could be a playroom, but it could also be a corner of your living room. Set up a sound system so your kids can put on music and dance around. You can also get some activity equipment for outside -- or just put up a basketball hoop in the driveway.

How can I get my child to eat healthier foods?

First of all, don't force him to eat a food. That's terribly counterproductive. We need to feel relaxed to enjoy a food. But if a child feels forced or pressured, his body will release stress hormones. He'll start to pair the food with the unpleasant feeling, and that's a great way to create food aversions that can last a whole lifetime.

So you want to encourage gently. At dinner, you could give your child a reasonable serving of an entree he likes to eat along with a serving of vegetables. Ask him to take a bite of the vegetables. If he doesn't want to finish it, that's fine. But don't give him a second helping of the entree to compensate. Hunger can be a good motivator. If he's still hungry, he'll go back to the vegetables.

You can also try some stealth nutrition -- sneaking vegetables into your child's diet in forms that he doesn't recognize. So he could get some of his vegetables through pasta sauce, or through a puree that you put into other foods. I don't like to push this approach too far though. Kids can get wise and feel manipulated.

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