Obesity statistics in Primary School children have reached a record high in the UK according to data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP).
The data from 2020/21 revealed that nearly a quarter of students in Year 6 are obese, and that obesity figures are double in the most deprived areas of the UK!
This may sound like some scary stuff, but not to fear, your friendly family Nutritionists are here to break down facts and suggest some ways to talk about weight in your home!
Raising the issue of obesity may sound challenging, and you may not feel comfortable being in that situation. From our experience, having these conversations with children is possible, but they should be handled with compassion and sensitivity. Some of our top tips include:
Children are incredibly smart and intuitive. You may have even been faced with a situation where a child has come to you and made a comment on their body. This can be heart breaking to hear, and our initial instincts tell us to comfort and shut it down immediately with a ‘no, not at all, you’re perfect just the way you are!’. Whilst this might seem like the best way to navigate this conversation, sometimes opening up a discussion can be more helpful. We like to open dialogue by saying:
From here it allows the child to have some autonomy, and you can continue the conversation by asking ‘and what would you like to do to stop feeling that way?’ or ‘how can we work together to make sure you don’t feel like that anymore?’. Steering these conversations to become collaborative discussions is what we try to do at BeeZee, to support children to engage in healthy habits and behavioural change.
Finally, when having conversations about weight with children make sure to look at other aspects in their life too. What do they enjoy doing that could be a pathway to building healthier habits? Once again, this puts them in control of their own health journey and focuses on what they are passionate about too.
To open up this discussion, it is important to understand how we should frame the conversation, and a lot of this relies on language. Children are clever and pick up on the language we use relating to our own bodies. Therefore, we suggest the conversation starts with YOU. Try not to use judgemental words such as “fat” when speaking about yourself or making comparisons to others. Try explaining to children and focusing on the fact that people’s bodies are just as unique as their personalities, and they come in all shapes and sizes. We want to focus on being healthy rather than what we look like!
Avoid words such as “dieting” as often this can lead to engaging in fad-diets that have a yo-yo effect on our health and diet – not helpful when trying to maintain a healthy weight. Lastly, try to avoid weight and exercise praising. This can include praising and rewarding your child if they start losing/maintaining weight, eating more fruit and vegetables or exercising more. We want to avoid rewarding these behaviours as it can suggest to children that praise from parents/carers only comes from things associated to weight, leading to difficult relationships with food and exercise later in life. Instead, if they begin to exercise more, try commending them for spending more time outside rather than on their screens. It can be useful to set other goals apart from weight loss, such as playing on the swings each day and making some homemade meals.
Having the discussion around obesity with children can take time. You may feel the need to plan out exactly what to say or prepare for questions, but we would recommend framing this conversation as a series of small, everyday chats, rather than a one-off serious discussion. For example, bringing up the topic whilst on a walk, driving or cooking. The most important thing is that you take your time and approach the conversation in a gentle way, creating an environment for question and exploration of the topic.
Ways of starting this conversation could include:
Framing lifestyle changes around the whole family and not one specific person is more supportive and takes the emphasis off the individual, switching it to a group activity with a group goal. This also means you can check in with each other for support and explore what everyone likes and dislikes.