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Health & Parenting

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Kids Who Often Diet Are Most Likely to Get Fat


"Foods you are pressured into eating become less attractive," Spruijt-Metz tells WebMD. "Modeling is really important. There is abundant evidence that the mother's body mass and the child's weight are closely related. So if you want your kid to eat broccoli, you have to eat broccoli. You've got to be open-minded. Kids are not stupid."

Field also stresses the importance of parental modeling. "For girls but not boys, the higher the mother's weight change over two years, the higher the daughter's risk of being overweight," she notes.

Neither researcher blames just one parent. "We aren't saying everything is the mother's fault -- it might be the mother who pressures the kid, but it's the dad who drives the shopping list," Spruijt-Metz says. "It's important to make the right foods available to kids."

Exactly when a family needs to make a change may not be entirely obvious -- at least to family members. A study by University of Chicago researcher Anjali Jain, MD, finds that obese mothers often don't think of their overweight children as overweight. Instead of looking at whether their kids are of normal weight for their size, Jain found that overweight mothers tend to focus on practical problems, such as not fitting into clothes, playground teasing about being fat, or limitations on physical activity. Even then, they tend to see their children as "thick" or "solid."

"Defining 'overweight' in children the way we doctors traditionally do may not have meaning for some women," Jain tells WebMD. "It's important for the doctor to step into the mother's shoes and see how they view the problem. Mothers in our study thought as long as their child was active, he or she was not overweight. So to sit down with them and form decisions about what to do with this kind of active child may be more helpful than labeling the child as overweight."

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