Have you ever been taken off guard by a child's question about weight? Many parents struggle with what to say and how to say it. In fact, a WebMD/Sanford Health survey found that parents of teens find it more difficult to talk about weight with their child than talking about sex, drugs, alcohol or smoking. Experts at the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (Alliance) say the issue is compounded by the fact that there are limited resources to help parents respond to children's questions about weight. To help, STOP and the Alliance have developed a free conversation guide that offers parents "real-world" situations and plain language responses to questions about weight issues including understanding BMI, body image, bullying, weight bias and family obesity.
"When parents search online or ask a medical professional for help in talking with their children about tough topics like sex or drinking, they can find a host of useful tools," said STOP Obesity Alliance Director Scott Kahan, MD, MPH. "Yet if they search for information on how to field questions on weight, they won't find much beyond the simplistic 'eat less, move more' proclamation we've heard for years. And that's just not sufficient to help the millions of families facing this serious and emotional health issue."
"Weigh In: Talking to Your Children About Weight and Health" is an online guide created to fill the information gap and offer practical advice for parents struggling with how to discuss weight and health with their children. This research-based resource was created and reviewed by experts from a cross-section of fields including pediatrics, obesity research and psychology. Rather than focusing on finding the root of obesity or laying blame, the guide offers practical information for how to responsibly and compassionately respond to the following real-world scenarios:
- BMI Confusion: Your child's school performs annual BMI screenings. Your child brings home a BMI report card that shows he/she is overweight or obese and asks what this means.
- Cultural Differences: Your racial and/or ethnic heritage traditionally finds having extra weight as attractive or something to be admired, rather than viewing it as a health concern. Your child comes home from school confused and hurt because classmates/teachers called him "fat."
- Body Image: Your child asks, "Am I fat?" and says she wants to go on a diet. She is emotional because she says she looks different from the other girls in her class.
- Bullying: Your child is not behaving appropriately or is acting withdrawn and says he doesn't want to go to school. When you ask why, he says that a bunch of kids have been teasing him and calling him "fat."
- Weight Bias: A parent or teacher who doesn't know you or your family well questions your decision to allow your overweight/obese child to have a treat or not require them to participate in an athletic activity.
- Inter-family Weight Differences: Your son, who is of average weight, makes fun of your daughter and calls her "fat."
- Parental Obesity: You are an overweight or obese parent and another adult calls you "fat" while in public with your child. Your child asks why.
"We set out to develop a guide to help children deal with obesity. During the process, we realized the great need for a guide that lets parents and caregivers know they are not alone," said Alliance for a Healthier Generation Chief Executive Officer Ginny Ehrlich, EdD. "Weight is a tough issue - perhaps the toughest today's parents face given all the complexities. But that doesn't mean we can avoid it. In fact, it only intensifies the need to weigh in."
The guide also is intended to help bring out into the open a conversation that often requires parents to tread into unfamiliar territory with their children. "Even though speaking to people affected by obesity is what I do for a living, when it came to addressing the issue with my son, I was like a fish out of water," said Traci Baker, mother and weight loss life coach from Indiana. "I wanted him to know that his weight does not define him. And deep down, I knew I needed to be a role model for my son. None of this was easy. To have a guide that doesn't point fingers but offers a helping hand is exactly what parents like me need."