The single most effective way to change your child's diet and level of physical activity may be to set a good example. Children usually don't do the grocery shopping or food preparation. They don't organize outside activities or drive themselves to the recreational center or park. Children aren't able to change these behaviors on their own. To help your child eat better and be more physically active, you need to get involved. Better yet, the entire family should be on board, including siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other caregivers.
Research has shown that children have the most success losing or stabilizing weight when a family approach is taken. The opposite also may be true. If the family isn't on board and isn't ready to make significant changes in the foods eaten and the amount of time spent being active, studies have shown it can do the child more harm than good, as it may make the child feel like a failure or think that he or she will never be able to lose weight.
Along the same lines, caregivers outside the immediate family — such as a grandmother, uncle or babysitter — may inadvertently sabotage efforts and become a barrier to progress. They may use food to create a bond with the child, they may use food as a reward or a pacifier, or they may have a weight problem themselves that they are not willing to address. Literally, anybody who is involved with anything related to food and caring for the child needs to be on board and involved in this process of health behavior change.
Focus on Health, Not Weight
The entire family should be engaged and focused on being healthy. It's not about losing weight as much as it's about eating right and being active in order to be healthy. When everyone in the family gets involved, it shows that eating healthy foods is not a diet for losing weight, but rather it's a diet for being strong, fit and healthy, and it's good for the entire family. Also, it's not about short-term changes or quick solutions. When the family is on board and committed to making lifelong behavior changes, it highlights the positive while moving toward something good: a happier, healthier family.
A great resource for getting the entire family involved is Shapedown, a lifestyle modification program for children and families. For more information call (650) 858-1167 or visit them online at www.shapedown.com.