Childhood Obesity & Family Involvement

The American Heart Association recently released a scientific statement about the role of parents, families and caregivers in the treatment of obese kids. The most important part of their message was that parents and caregivers need to lead by providing a good example.  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 have been inconsistent findings on whether increased parent involvement in weight loss programs is helpful; However, the statement authors did find that certain parenting strategies appear to be effective in getting children to change unhealthy behaviors.  These strategies included:

• As a family, identify specific behaviors that need to be altered.
• Set clear and specific goals and monitor progress.
• Create a home environment that encourages healthier choices.
• Parents should commend their children’s progress and, rather than criticizing, use “slips” as a way to help children learn to make different choices if the same situation arises again.
• Food shouldn’t be used as a reward or withheld as punishment.
• Keep track of progress toward goals using a tracker.

Dr. Myles Faith, the chair of the AHA writing committee explained that “Childhood obesity is a result of many factors at all levels of society. This includes the individual level, such as family background and genetic predisposition, the family level, and also the community and societal level.  All of these particular levels are important — the family unit does not exist in a vacuum. Context is important. Strategies that are designed to combat childhood obesity are designed with all these different levels in mind.”

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