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Helping your overweight child

by Martha Coventry

From M, winter 2004

"Parents of overweight children are in a dilemma," says Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, associate professor in the School of Public Health's Division of Epidemiology. "They want to help their children prevent further weight gain, but they also want to avoid making them feel even worse about their bodies." From her work on eating disorders and obesity prevention among teenagers, Neumark-Sztainer has found some ways parents can help their overweight children. Don't add to the pressure. Parents need to be aware of all the stress their overweight children are under--from the media and from their peers--to be thin. Most likely, they're being teased. Children know when they're overweight; parents don't need to remind them or add to their discomfort. Make yourself available. Be there for your child to talk with and don't be judgmental. Assume there are problems facing your child and address them. Try bringing up the topic of weight in general to give your child a way to broach the subject. Create a healthier home environment for the whole family. Look at your family as a whole, rather than just the overweight child, and focus more on behavior than on weight. Pay attention to the kinds of foods your family eats, limit TV, and find ways to become more active together. Stay away from the dieting mentality. Think of the messages you give your child about your own weight and what your attitudes are toward diets. Recent data shows that dieting among teenagers can actually lead to weight gain. Opt for lifestyle changes instead of diets. Find places where your child can feel comfortable. Your overweight child may feel excluded in school, then come home and eat to feel better. Find different social networks where your child may be more accepted, like church or synagogue groups, scouts, etc. Simply support your child--no matter what his or her weight. To sponsor research on adolescent weight issues at the University, contact the University Pediatrics Foundation at, or call 612-624-6900.

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