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The Sins of the Parents

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When you’ve struggled with weight issues for your entire life it can be frustrating and exhausting to hear even well-meaning people “suggest” that you lose weight “for your own good.” As if that was news!  While it can be tempting to shoot back with a response that your weight affects only you, that would not be entirely true. Unfortunately, a mom and dad’s weight is a major risk factor impacting their children’s weight.

The statistics are staggering and leave little room for interpretation: Parents with obesity are much more likely to have children who also have obesity. When one parent has obesity the chance that his or her children will have obesity is 50 percent; if both parents have obesity, that likelihood goes up to 80 percent. Another thing no one wants to hear: A mother’s weight is the strongest predictor of obesity in her children. For women with obesity, this influence starts before pregnancy and continues throughout the child’s life.

Not surprisingly, childhood obesity is a huge problem. If children have obesity before they start kindergarten, they are five times as likely to become overweight or obese adults. Children who have obesity by the time they are 10 to 13-years old have an 80 percent chance of carrying it with them into adulthood. If this continues at the current rate, more than 57 percent of children today will be have obesity by the time they turn 35; and, for about half of them, it will have started in their childhood.

Let’s be clear: There are a lot of factors that contribute to both parental and childhood obesity. Genetics and environmental factors play a big role, as does parents’ education level and income. Since a lot of this is beyond parents’ control, it becomes even more important to take charge. For example, some parents don’t want to admit that their child is overweight, instead claiming that they’re still carrying “baby fat.” While that may be true, if your “baby” is approaching middle school that justification just doesn’t work anymore.

To help your children avoid lifelong obesity, think about changes you can make as a family. Babies have different cries for when they are wet or tired or hungry. Feed them when they let you know they’re hungry and let them decide how much to eat. As they grow and start on solid foods, it’s important to give them a wide variety of different foods — not just what you like! This helps them develop good eating habits as they grow, and may help them be less finicky.

As they get older, children love to imitate their parents. Incorporating healthier food choices as a regular part of meals and monitoring portion size can go a long way to affecting their eating habits. Ditto for making time for family activity and exercise; take a walk after dinner or plant a garden or make a snowman! These may not be your first (or second or third) choice of things to do, but instilling these changes as part of the family lifestyle is critical to giving them a fighting chance to successfully control their weight.

Sometimes the best way to address an issue is to look at it from a different perspective. For some, the effort of weight loss for their own good may not be motivation enough, but knowing that it could have a literally lifelong impact on their children might be the gentle nudge they need to explore options.

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