As a pediatrician, I care about more than just your children’s physical health. Mental and emotional wellbeing are equally important. Sadly, the greatest preventable threat to your child’s physical health also threatens their mental and emotional health. I’m talking, of course, about childhood obesity.
Studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org) find that “obese children have lower self esteem and self confidence than their thinner peers.” No big surprise. Kids haven’t learned to separate their sense of “self” from their body image, so when they perceive themselves to be less attractive than other kids, they believe they have less value, too. Unfortunately, this belief is reinforced by everything they see on TV and in magazines, which trumpet beauty as the most important asset a person can have. We know better, but our kids don’t.
The other kids your children are around don’t know better, either, which means that overweight children get more than their fair share of teasing, and they have a harder time making friends. Remember how important your friends were when you were a child? Imagine getting through one hour on the playground without friends to play with, watching the other kids from a distance.
Inside the classroom, your child’s schoolwork can suffer because of a lack of self esteem. Then poor grades make them feel even worse about themselves creating a downward spiral.
What you can do to help your child
The first and most important piece of advice is: Don’t become part of the problem. Don’t try to tease your child into changing their eating habits. Making fun of your child’s weight is not the way to help them lose a few pounds. Instead of positioning yourself as the enemy, become part of your child’s support system. Reinforce everything you love about this special person, every unique and wonderful quality. Let your home be a haven from the stresses of the world.
At the same time, do encourage healthier eating by setting a positive example. Be honest with yourself. Do you prepare healthy meals for your kids? Do you make healthy choices when grocery shopping?
Start by creating a more active life for your family by getting involved in fun activities with your child. Even taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood can be fun, and it can give you and your kids a chance to chat about your day.
Being fit and healthy physically increases your child’s chance to be happy. Next time you reach for an unhealthy snack, think about the cost to your child’s long-term happiness.