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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.

Are there other mistakes parents make at the dinner table?

Yes. Another typical mistake is to say, "You can't have your dessert until you eat your vegetables." Maybe that will work a few times. But what you're doing is making dessert a reward and vegetables a punishment. That will have unfortunate long-term consequences.

Instead, just say, "First we eat our vegetables, and then we eat dessert." It's a subtle but important difference. You're just showing your child the proper order of things without placing relative value on either food.

How can I help my child deal with bullying related to his or her weight?

This can be really painful, both for the kids and for their parents. But you do have to be careful not to overreact. You don't want to make the situation worse than it actually is.

The first thing to do is really listen to what your son or daughter has to say. Then, depending on the child's personality, you can walk your kid through a few different responses. Some kids can handle teasing with humor, a witty comeback. Other kids can learn to ignore it -- they pretend that they're surrounded by a force field and the negative comments just bounce off.

There's no simple answer. In some situations where there's very abusive behavior, you may need to speak to the teacher and file a complaint. But in most cases, kids can handle it on their own, especially with some support from their parents, a sense of humor, and a little creativity.

Parents with overweight kids sometimes feel discouraged. Trying to push back against societal pressures can feel overwhelming. What do you have to say to them??

It is important to recognize what we're up against. We live in a society that, unfortunately, undermines our efforts to stay healthy. But parents shouldn't get discouraged. Once you have the family working together and making behavior changes, improving the health of your kids really can be easier than you think.

After they make some progress in the home, I do think it's important that parents turn their energy outward into the community. You could start lobbying to have the junk food taken out of the vending machines at your child's school and insisting on better quality school lunches. Fight to maintain open spaces for recreation and don't let them get bulldozed for developments.

It's really in our long-term interest as a country to deal with the problem of childhood obesity -- even from an economic perspective. Because if we raise a generation of kids who are obese, who have diabetes and heart disease at an early age, it will have an economic impact that will dwarf the financial crisis we're facing today. Our most precious resources are our human resources. Without the health of our children, we've got nothing.

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