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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

  This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff in collaboration with Sanford Health Systems.

Common Ground Between Depression and Obesity continued...

Being overweight also can lead to self-esteem problems that lead to depression, says Eileen Stone, a child and adolescent psychologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. "I see children at a young age who are concerned about their weight and size and are being picked on," Stone says. "Those ideas about self-esteem get to you pretty young, and you can grow up with them."

Inactivity or listlessness, typical characteristics of depression, also lead to weight gain. The more time children spend "vegging out" in front of the TV or computer screen, instead of being up and active, the fewer calories they burn. In addition to limiting opportunities for healthy exercise, too much screen time reduces contact with other children or parents. 

Trading out some screen time to make more time to be physically active can provide an instant boost and, over the long haul, may help lift depression. Studies have shown physical activity to be among depression treatments that can help break the vicious cycle of depression, inactivity, and weight gain.

5 Tips for Parenting Overweight and Depressed Children

The risks of poor sleep, inactivity, and depression eating are clear. But what can parents do about it? Experts offer these tips:

  1. Remember that kids deserve love regardless of their size.

    "We encourage parents to give unconditional love," Stone says. "From there, the job is to provide a healthy atmosphere -- healthy food choices, activity, and positive social interactions."
  2. Set a good example.
    Parents can be more effective by setting good examples with their own healthy eating than by simply encouraging kids to diet or prohibiting certain foods. "You should help them find healthier choices," Stone tells WebMD. "Don’t restrict everything. That doesn’t work."
    One way to avoid having to say "no" when your child goes for the cookie jar is to limit buying unhealthful food in the first place. Not bringing tempting food home keeps you from having to prohibit it when it’s within eyesight on the counter or within easy reach in the pantry.
  3. Don’t scold children for overeating.
    This is never a good idea, but especially not when a child is depressed and overweight. "That makes them feel bad and makes them more depressed," Weissman says. And ironically, they may end up eating more to soothe their hurt feelings after you've scolded them.
  4. Treat the issue.
    Whether it is depression or being overweight, your child needs treatment. Weissman suggests that parents "first try to deal with the depression and its triggers, then find alternatives to overeating that would be satisfying."
  5. Consider psychotherapy.
    This can help children understand the root of a bad mood that has left them sluggish and susceptible to gaining weight. Finding that understanding can give them motivation to fight back with a healthier lifestyle, Weissman says.


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