Children want to be just like their friends. This can be a positive, such as encouraging each other to get good grades or to join a sports team. Or it can be a negative, such as filling up on junk food. But the truth is, children are not just like their friends, and they never will be. This is a difficult concept for kids to accept when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. An overweight child may see his peers overloading on sugary drinks and pizza and think, “If they’re not eating healthy foods and they don’t gain weight, why do I have to diet?”

Biology plays a significant role in weight. On HealthyChildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics cites a Danish study which compared the body mass index (BMI) of adults who had been adopted with their birth parents’ and with their adoptive parents’. Overwhelmingly, their BMI matched that of their biological parents, even though they had been raised with the eating habits of their adoptive family.

Without a doubt, it is more difficult for some children to maintain a healthy weight than it is for other children. But – and this is a key point – staying at a healthy weight is beneficial for all children. So whether it’s easy or difficult for a child to stay trim, the effort is worthwhile.

Children who are obese are more likely to suffer from asthma, joint pain, high blood pressure, severe headaches, gallstones… the list goes on and on. One of the most serious potential health issues an overweight child might face is Type 2 diabetes. With diabetes come daily blood sugar testing, possible injections, medications, frequent doctor visits, and constant vigilance that is much more onerous than losing weight would’ve been in the first place.

What should parents do when their children complain it’s not fair?

With kindness and understanding, parents should help their children to understand that each person must play the hand they’re dealt. In other words, what is, is. Every person is unique and must find her way through the world from her unique perspective, with all the advantages and disadvantages that go with it.
If a child was born with a propensity to gain weight, then he must work harder than his friends to keep that weight off. He must exercise more and eat fewer snacks. That’s just a reality of this person’s life, the same way that glasses or contacts are a reality of the life of someone who wasn’t born with 20/20 vision. By helping children to make this connection in their brains, parents help take the emotion out of it, especially the shame.

When genetics are a factor in a child being overweight, in all likelihood, her parents have struggled with the same issues. This, again, can be both positive and negative. If parents have given up the fight and keep an abundance of unhealthy foods in the house, then it’s nearly impossible for a child to lose weight. On the other hand, if the parents change their habits, start eating healthy and exercising more, they can be the best possible support system for their children. Their shared DNA means they can share the frustrations and triumphs, and grow closer than ever.

Losing weight for some families might not be easy, but by working together, they can do it. And because they made that commitment and stuck with it, those families will live happier, healthier, and longer lives.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.