A recent study in the Journal of the
American Medical Association reported that obese children score
their quality of life as low as young cancer patients on
chemotherapy do. Kramer said that parents should watch for signs of
low self-esteem, sadness or loneliness in their children and not be
afraid to initiate conversation about it.
"Don't assume that your child has
issues surrounding his body image. Not all overweight children do.
But, if you suspect a problem exists, ask your child to tell you how
he feels about himself, if being overweight is part of it, and what
he wants to do about it. Then help your child make lifestyle changes
that will enable him to achieve his goal," Kramer said.
Kramer said it's important that parents
stay positive in their comments. "There's a right way and a wrong
way to motivate. Don't nag. It's better to provide healthful meals
and encourage activities that will lead to new patterns of
behavior," she said.
Such efforts often involve changing the
family culture, which is no small undertaking, she added. Families
may need to learn to eat very differently. "We should all learn to
stop eating when we begin to feel full," she said.
If children are used to reaching for
second and even third helpings, parents can encourage better eating
patterns by providing healthier food choices that are easier on the
waistline. "If a child has a second helping of salad, it's not the
same as having a second helping of mashed potatoes," she added.
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The psychologist suggested that parents
take the lead in getting families to become active together. "Go to
the Y and swim, or go roller-skating as a family. There are ways to
make this fun," she said.
If teens resist participating in
activity with the family, parents can encourage them to exercise
with their friends. Teens who take up a new sport like tennis may
find a bonus in building new friendships as they become more active.
But some children need more help than
their families can give them, Kramer said. "In our culture, there's
a lot of emphasis on looking good. You can tell your daughter that
what really matters is that she's beautiful inside, but if she's
being teased in gym class, it may be hard for her to believe you,"
"Help your child find social situations
and relationships in which she feels comfortable, and keep your eye
out for signs that your child may be battling depression as well as
a weight problem.
"Don't be afraid to seek the help of a
physician or counselor if you think your child's self-esteem is
dangerously low," Kramer said.
Warning signs of depression
- Feeling sad or irritable
- Loss of interest in activities
that were once pleasurable
- Excessive fatigue or trouble
- Difficulty concentrating and
- Feelings of worthlessness
- In more extreme cases, talk about
death or suicide or suicidal behaviors
[University of Illinois