What Else Can Parents Do About Childhood Obesity?

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There’s so much advice about childhood obesity! Everyone has ideas about how to prevent and/or cure the problem, and Childhood Obesity News has been sifting through lists of recommendations from many sources.

For LA Times, Jeannine Stein summarized material from Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. These words are from Myles Faith, the organization’s chair:

In many cases, the adults in a family may be the most effective change agents to help obese children attain and maintain a healthier weight.

There it is: “the most effective.” Of course, he qualifies the statement with “may be.” Let’s interpret “may be” to mean, “If the adults get a clue, and are open to new ideas, and have what it takes to communicate effectively with kids, adults definitely are the most effective change agent.” In most cases, that means parents. And there can be no doubt at all that during the first few years of childhood, adults are in charge of everything.

Of course, Faith warns, the adults might have to change themselves first. One of the Heart Association’s suggestions is to get specific. Announcing that the family will exercise more is not enough. What kind of exercise, and when, needs to be decided, and then followed through. Goals need to be small, incremental, achievable, and specific.

Another of their ideas is to rearrange the kitchen so healthful foods are the first ones that appear to the eye and are the easiest to reach. Behavior-wise, the presiding adults need to practice what they preach. And it really helps to be positive. Tell the kid when he does something right, and back off from scolding or punishment.

The journalist also tells the other side:

Most studies did not show substantially more weight loss when parents were more involved, and the authors said future studies need to address what works and under what conditions.

And that’s okay. The human race has never been promised that all the answers are easy to find. There is nothing wrong with concentrating on the evidence that parental involvement does work, and find out exactly what those parents are doing. Even better, it’s a chance to be a part of the discovery adventure. Any parent who tells a success story on one of the many parenting blogs will be greeted as a hero.

For the adult who really means business and wants to initiate change, a couple of caveats are in order. The main thing to watch out for is expecting noticeable results right away. If prevention is the game, kids may not to cotton to every innovation as enthusiastically as we would like. Plenty of patience is needed, and the willingness to take it slow.

If a child is already obese, progress might be almost imperceptible. Nobody gets that way overnight, and the reverse is true: Nobody attains a healthy weight in a week. One of the tools in a parent’s kit has to be the willingness to take some things on faith, such as the possibility of indirect change. For instance, suppose the family institutes a program of walking around the block after dinner. It’s not much of a workout. The number of calories burned is not really impressive.

But… suppose, on one of these walks, the family meets up with a professional pet exerciser, and the overweight teenage son strikes up a conversation with this person. It’s totally possible that, six months down the line, the teenage son will be walking some dogs for spending money, and incidentally, as a consequence of all that extra exercise, weighing in at something close to normal.

You never know what might happen, and the good thing about all the strategies that are turning up is that none of them can do any harm. So — might as give some of them a try.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Getting Families Involved May Help with Childhood Obesity,” LA Times, 01/23/12
Image by MarkScottAustinTX, used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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