Childhood obesity is on the rise, and with it clinicians are seeing an alarming increase in diabetes. But weight gain can be a touchy topic for kids. Lise Gloede, RD, CDE encourages parents to keep discussions focused on health concerns rather than appearance. Children should not be chastised for being heavy, as low self-esteem can spawn unhealthy crash dieting. "It's a bad sign when young kids are spouting off calorie counts," says Gloede, noting that eating disorders have been diagnosed in kids as young as eight. Instead of banning sweets, allow them smaller amounts. Encourage kids to pack their own nutritious lunches choosing the foods they prefer. Reduce portion sizes and introduce healthy options such as colorful fruits and vegetables or yogurt in place of "empty calorie" foods such as chips and soda. "Parents also need to learn not to use food as a reward. We learn that broccoli probably tastes bad if we are forced to eat it," she says.
Unhealthy eating habits can stem from emotional stress or sheer habit, and may be compounded by a sedentary lifestyle. Kids may eat to comfort themselves when they feel lonely or neglected, and will likely munch on whatever is on hand. Double standards under the same roof (e.g. dad can have cookies, but you can't) usually don't work, notes pediatrician William Goldman, MD. "It's important to limit high fat snacks and TV/video game time, while encouraging kids to get regular aerobic exercise through activities such as biking, swimming or team sports," adds Dr. Goldman.