There is no question that we have a massive crisis on our hands. Our children are becoming increasingly overweight and obese. While many consider it just an esthetic issue, this is far from the truth. Overweight children clearly demonstrate early development of conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, gallbladder problems and damaged blood vessels. This is serious stuff.
Whenever I deal with parents who are truly concerned about their child’s weight, I stress that it is not about losing weight for the child, but rather improving lifestyle so that weight stabilizes and they grow into their current weight. But make no mistake, the fault lies with the parents. If the parents’ health behaviors have issues, it is hopeless to think that you can improve your child’s health behaviors above your own.
This particular article looks at two types of parental approaches to improving the health of children.
The first is an overt or traditional style. In this model, parents take a much greater control over the dietary choices of their children and several characteristics or behaviors are evident:
- Parental misinterpretation of normal weight
- Attempt at restriction of food intake
- Pressures to eat when children refuse food (“empty your plate”)
- Using food as a calming agent (if you stop doing this, I’ll give you candy)
- Not providing regular feeding opportunities (lack of structured meals)
- Not providing appropriate modeling for eating (back to the reflection of parental health behaviors)
This modeling, however, has been shown to backfire, as it is associated with preoccupation with food, eating in the absence of hunger, poorer self-esteem, and further weight gain. Pressuring children to eat also is strictly discouraged because it can disconnect children from their hunger, satiety, and appetite cues.
On the other hand, a covert or trust model takes a different approach:
- Parents are responsible for selecting foods to present at meals and snacks
- Parents determine the timing for meals and snacks
- Parents choose the place to eat
- Parents are sitting and eating with the child
- The atmosphere is kept pleasant and positive
In this model, children are responsible for what to eat and how much (or even whether) to eat from the food provided. The difference here is that the child is given multiple options to choose from, but these options are all balanced choices. As an example, when my 6 year old is getting ready for school in the morning, he is always presented with at least 3 or 4 options for breakfast, and even those he has options within those choices (whole grain toast with peanut butter, honey or 100% fruit preserves or any combination thereof).
The covert style is really reflective of an overall healthier family because the influence is not direct, rather it is merely a reflection of how the parents live and eat.