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CARE

Is your child overweight and you don’t see it?

Did you know that about one in three children in the U.S. are overweight? More importantly, do you know if your child is overweight? According to a 2014 study, half of parents with heavy children don’t perceive them as being overweight. That means they are missing the opportunity to encourage healthy habits. Children who are overweight when they hit adolescence tend to remain overweight as adults—and that can have livelong health consequences. 

If your child is on the heavy side, check in with the child's health care provider. Ask what he or she would consider to be a healthy weight. Then be ready to make some changes. Here are five ways to help.

It starts with you
You have a lot of influence on your child's habits and choices. Children look up to their parents, so lead by example. Model the choices, behaviors and routines that show you value your health by preparing balanced, whole food meals and limiting the processed foods and sweets that are in the house. If they are not around, it's much harder for you and your family to eat them. Make time for regular activity, even if it's just a brisk walk around the neighborhood.  

Focus on health, not weight or appearance
Even well-intentioned comments about weight or appearance can do more harm than good. Instead of saying that eating too many cookies makes you fat, explain that both our bodies and our brains work better if we don't eat too much sugar. Focus on how eating better makes us feel better, or being active keeps us strong.  

If a child bring ups weight or appearance, be reassuring and supportive: I love you and appreciate you just as you are. Ask why he or she is thinking about it. How does it make him or her feel? The answers can help guide more discussion. 

Skip the lectures, but set some ground rules
Lecturing and nagging is not pleasant or helpful for you or your child. Encourage your child to think about the choices he or she is making and what other options might be available: Will your tummy have room for dinner if you keep snacking? Instead of watching TV, should we go to the playground? And don't be afraid to set some ground rules for your child. You are the parent, and you really do know what's best for his or her health.  

Make it a family affair
A child who is expected to eat differently than the rest of the family will feel punished. Instead, make healthy eating and regular activity part of your family identity. Be a role model for your children, making it easy for them to make good choices. Even simple changes can send a powerful message. For example, if your family enjoys watching football, head outside for a walk at halftime instead of making it about the snacks. 

Make gradual changes
You don't need to change everything at once if your family's eating and exercise habits aren't the best. Gradual changes will be more successful in the long run. Start with something simple and fun, like making a healthy snack together or picking a new park to explore. If you need more ideas, talk with your child's provider.

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