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Health & Parenting

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Parents, Kids, Doctors Balk at Talk About Weight

WebMD/Sanford Survey: Sex, Drugs Easier to Discuss Than Weight Control


What makes parents so reluctant to talk to children about the risks of being overweight? Many don't think it's a problem until their children are obviously overweight, says family psychologist Susan Bartell, PsyD, a consultant to WebMD on the surveys.

"But the next issue I see often is parents are really afraid they will trigger an eating disorder," Bartell tells WebMD. "And then the other thing is they don't know how to talk to kids about weight. They think they will hurt their kids' feelings or damage their self-esteem."

And kids aren't making this talk any easier. Nearly three-fourths of them (72%) say the discussion would be more embarrassing to them than to their parents.

Talking to Kids About Weight

So how does a parent do it? Bhargava says it's easier if you start with messages about healthy behaviors at an earlier age. And even then, Bartell advises, there are pitfalls to avoid.

"You have to use very positive words. You can't talk about a child being overweight, or not trying hard enough, or going on a diet -- those are red flags," she says. "Focus on healthy choices -- what you will do together as a family. Tell them you know change is slow, and that you are really proud of them making healthy changes along with the rest of the family."

What kind of changes? Healthy eating and healthy amounts of physical exercise are of course key. But there's more to it than that, says pediatrics professor Mike Bergeron, PhD, senior scientist at Sanford Children's Research Center.

"Certainly healthy food and physical activity are key. But that is interdependent on how kids feel about themselves, and this keys into mood and sleep," Bergeron says. "Kids have better approaches when they feel rested, confident, socially involved, and all of that."

The Kelton Research surveys sponsored by WebMD and Sanford have a margin of error of 3.9%.

Fit is a partnership between WebMD and Sanford, described as "a new national initiative aimed at promoting health and wellness and preventing childhood obesity among kids ages 2 to 18." It features online destinations for children, teens, and parents.

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