Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about obesity. Some may insist that they know what causes it. Or they might have a dozen or more suggestions on how to conquer it. Yet even though it seems that our culture is obsessed with diets and a belief that you can never be too thin, there are more than enough myths and misunderstandings about childhood weight to go around. Unfortunately, some of this misinformation can get in the way of your child succeeding in his own weight-loss efforts.
To help you and your youngster get on the right path toward normalizing his weight, let’s separate fiction from facts. See if you believe in any of the following misconceptions, and then read what the truth about them really is:
“My child and I deserve the blame for his weight problem.”
Not true. Thanks to the media and many high-profile diet gurus, many overweight children and adults believe that obesity occurs in people who are self-indulgent or weak-willed. With those kinds of attitudes so prevalent, no wonder that there’s so little empathy and support for individuals who need to lose weight. However, the facts are that no one is to blame for your child’s obesity. Children gain excess weight for a variety of reasons. Some have a tendency to be obese because it runs in their families. Others may not make the best selections of foods or portion sizes, often because healthier choices aren’t available or perhaps because their parents or grandparents put too much food on their plates. Throughout you’ll find descriptions of other culprits and contributors to your child’s weight problem that should remove self-blame. Once you understand the causes of obesity a little better, you and your child will be able to manage his obesity more effectively and realistically.
“My child’s weight problem needs a quick fix.”
Yes, you and your youngster may wish for an instantaneous solution for losing his excess pounds, and there are plenty of diets in bookstores that promise fast results. But let’s face it—there are no easy answers to weight problems (or to most other things in life). Obesity is not a problem that can be resolved overnight or even in a few weeks. (If you’ve ever tried to lose weight yourself and keep it off, you know that’s the case.) In fact, some of the most popular quick fixes, from diet pills to herbal teas, may be hazardous to your child’s health. Many of the “natural” supplements that teenagers might be attracted to, as well as the near-starvation diets that are promoted in newspaper ads and popular magazine articles, are risky and in some cases, even potentially deadly. Where should you turn instead? Working with your child’s pediatrician and using plans and programs that are based on credible, scientific evidence offers the best chance for safe and long-term weight-loss success.
“My overweight child will ‘grow into’ the excess pounds that he has.”
Youngsters normally gain weight throughout childhood. It’s a necessary part of the growth process. But some parents tell their pediatricians that their overweight children will outgrow their weight problems. However, that’s not something you can count on. In fact, depending on your child’s eating habits and activity level, he is just as likely to continue to gain weight, not lose it, as he grows. Don’t depend on routine growth spurts to compensate for his weight problem.
“My child may seem overweight according to the growth charts, but our entire family is ‘big boned.’ So I don’t think he has a weight problem at all.”
Pediatricians often hear parents say, “We’re not worried about our child’s weight. Everyone in our family is big, and we’ve always been like this.” In truth, you need to keep your focus on the growth and body mass index charts. If your child’s weight exceeds the normal range for his age and height, he meets the definition of being overweight or obese. It’s not something that you can rationalize away. There are certain metabolic or hormonal (endocrine) imbalances that often get blamed for weight problems. However, they are responsible for less than 1% of the cases of childhood obesity. Yes, hypothyroidism (a deficit in thyroid secretion) and other rarer and more severe genetic and metabolic disorders (eg, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome, Cushing syndrome) can cause weight gain (and in some cases, other severe problems such as hearing and vision impairments). You should certainly speak to your child’s pediatrician about these concerns and a have a complete medical evaluation performed. But because these syndromes are uncommon, they account for very few cases of obesity. More likely, your child’s excess weight is associated with poor eating and activity habits, as well as certain other issues.
“Because my child is heavy, he actually needs to eat more food to stay healthy.”
Based on this belief, many families may give bigger portions to the heavier children because of their size. Nothing could be more counterproductive. You need to rely on the growth charts and your pediatrician’s advice and make sure that your child is consuming portion sizes that allow him to maintain an average weight.