Parents must lead by example to help obese children lose weight

by TMP Editor on April 1, 2012

If you have a child with a weight problem, it may be best to look in the mirror. New research examined a variety of parenting techniques on weight loss for children and compared the results. Leading by example was the best way for parents to help their children lose weight.

Parents and weight loss

About 31 percent of kids in the U.S., about 5 million, are overweight or obese according to recent data. Standard childhood obesity treatment usually involves parents in plans based on nutrition education, exercise and behavior therapy. But a new study makes clear that the best way for parents to help an obese child lose weight is to lose weight themselves.

Childhood obesity treatments

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and The University of Minnesota designed a study to measure the effectiveness of three commonly used family-based childhood obesity treatment programs. The different approaches included modifying parenting techniques such as controlling the child’s eating behavior and positive reinforcement; changing the home food environment by controlling the types of food available; and parent modeling behaviors, i.e., leading by example.

Leading by example

In results of the study, published online in the journal “Obesity,” parents accepting the challenge to lose weight along with their kids was the only approach that consistently worked.

“Parents are the most significant people in a child’s environment, serving as the first and most important teachers,” said lead author Kerri Boutelle, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. “They play a significant role in any weight-loss program for children, and this study confirms the importance of their example in establishing healthy eating and exercise behaviors for their kids.”

Parent/child weight loss tips

To lead by example, here are some guidelines for helping you and your child achieve a healthy weight, courtesy of Myles S. Faith, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

Have specific goals: don’t just say you will eat less and be more active. Set goals such as walking 30 minutes a day, or eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Keep records: Make a chart and check things off. Keep track of diet, exercise and weight loss in a notebook, spreadsheet, or smartphone.

Use positive reinforcement: praise progress, and never use food to reward yourself or withhold it for punishment.

Strategic meal planning: Keep only healthy snacks in the house and decide on meals ahead of time. Learn the calorie counts of foods and beverages to make informed choices on healthy options.

Source: Science Daily, U.S. News & World Report, The Atlantic

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