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Have a Healthy Conversation: How To Talk To Kids About Weight

Posted by on November 8, 2013

First off, some facts, courtesy of the CDC:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
  • In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Now, obesity can cause some health problems. Does that mean that everyone who is overweight or obese has health problems? Goodness, no. Not every overweight person is unhealthy and not all overweight people desperately want to slim down.

Kids come in all sizes.

It’s important to let your kids know that there is NOTHING wrong with their bodies. Credit: Lubas Fashions

The people who tend to believe those things are the same people who have drunk the diet, sugar-free, Atkins Kool-Aid and feel the need to tell you about how Zumba changed their life over a three-hour brunch where they eat two scrambled egg whites and a stalk of celery from your Bloody Mary, while giving your delicious gluten-free Blueberry pancakes an unsubtle side-eye. (Just order the pancakes every once in a while, girl. It’ll make you happy).

Just because something is low-calorie, that doesn’t mean that it is actually highly nutritious, and it is possible to eat very healthy and still be overweight. Here enter, genetics.

Kids who are overweight deal with the same stigma that overweight adults deal with – the feeling that because of their size, they are somehow inferior. Unfortunately, it’s not only bullying from other kids that is responsible for this discrimination, but rather media outlets, state governments (like Georgia’s awful anti-obesity, body-shaming ads from 2012), and sometimes even random adults (like the “concerned” North Dakota woman who gave fat kids letters to hand to their parents on Halloween instead of candy) are responsible for this body-shaming culture.

An unwelcome Halloween letter.

The full “fat” Halloween letter, which initially appeared on a local North Dakota news segment. Credit: via Cafe Mom

Part of this letter reads: “You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season. My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

These comments are disgusting and so is the woman who wrote it, but not all of the responses to the letter were overtly negative. USA Today spoke to a cardiologist who thought that the letter was a public service. “Giving candy to an obese child is like giving a cigarette to a person with emphysema,” the cardiologist said in his interview. “It is giving a drink to an alcoholic. It is giving heroin to a drug addict.”

Just a note: shaming someone, anyone, but especially a child for their body, is a particularly horrible thing to do. As one commenter pointed out, “If you have a problem with handing out candy, why don’t you just hand out erasers or something non-edible and forget the lecture?” Or, just turn out your lights altogether and pretend that the holiday isn’t happening since you clearly don’t deserve to participate in it.

Let kids be kids. Don’t try to restrict their diets or force them to attend Weight Watcher’s meetings, but instead teach them about nutrition and about eating in moderation. If you ban something or constantly lecture and criticize your kids, they will only resent you and bans can lead to binging behavior that can continue into their adult lives.

While I was researching this topic, I came across a Kickstarter campaign by Ruth Smith of Bollingbrook, Ill. aimed at creating a new plus-size line for children called, “Hey Mom, It Fits!” Smith wants to help plus-size kids realize that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of by giving them great plus-size fashion that is age-appropriate and fun.

Hey Mom, It Fits!

Some potential clothing options that will be available if Smith receives her funding. Credit: Hey Mom, It Fits!

On the Kickstarter page, Smith says, “After working with plus sized women’s fashion for years, it was painful to see parents come into a plus sized women’s store to purchase clothes for their 9-12 year old children. They had to make adjustments to make the clothes fit. Many of the children looked like little women and not little girls.” We’re sure there will be plenty of kids who will appreciate this project.

We need more women like Smith to teach our kids about weight and, more importantly, about loving yourself at any size.

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