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Should You Put a Child on a Diet?

Recently, I was profiled in Redbook magazine, answering the question, “Should you put your child on a diet?” My reply was yes.

I’m not advocating starting your eight year old in the Weight Watchers plan, packing the lunchbox with Slim-Fast shakes and enrolling your daughter in a prepared meal plan. I’m also not advocating counting calories with your child, focusing on the number on the scale, or instructing her on weighing out her meals. Rather, I want to talk about helping your child to be healthy, and in some cases, this does mean keeping an eye on her weight.

One of my own daughters began to look a bit heavy. At her 6 year old pediatric check up, her doctor told me that she was getting too heavy and she illustrated this by comparing her growth curve on the chart. She told me that I needed to begin to keep an eye on her portions. I decided that I would begin an experiment. Without telling my daughter what I was doing – because I had no desire to call her attention to the issue – I decreased her portion sizes slightly. She had been eating a little bit more than she probably should have been, and had also become fairly sedentary due to an exceptionally rough winter. It’s tough to get out there when it’s cold and wet all the time.

I decided that we’d start to play Wii together. Gaming systems offer some of the best indoor fitness activities around, and the exercise doesn’t even feel like work – it’s just fun to play and be competitive. I also took the opportunity to sign her up for theĀ  martial arts classes that her older siblings took that she had been asking to begin. As a family, we started to eat more fruits and vegetables and dropped dessert to a once a week treat. Soon, without any discussion, and with no knowledge on her part, her weight had dropped back into a normal range and she’d begun healthy habits. Healthy habits that I hope will last a lifetime.

Obesity rates are higher than ever, and children are being diagnosed with so called “adult” diseasesĀ  – diabetes, heart disease, hypothyroidism – in record numbers. Rather than ignoring the reality of a child getting heavy in the name of letting your child relax and enjoy their childhood, I think it’s a far more realistic approach to begin healthy habits. An adult who is already in the habit of eating healthy meals and finds enjoyment in exercise has a better chance of remaining healthy for the rest of their life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you put a child on a diet? Why or why not?

April 7th, 2011