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No easy way to address weight issue with children

China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-02 09:57

NEW YORK - Red, yellow, green. It's a system for conveying the healthiness of foods, and at the center of a debate about how to approach weight loss for children.

This month, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers provoked a backlash when it introduced a food-tracking app for children as young as 8. The app uses a well-known traffic-light system to classify foods, giving children a weekly limit of 42 "reds", which include steak, peanut butter and chips.

Obesity is a growing public health issue that nobody is sure how to fix, and around one in five children in the United States is considered obese, up from one in seven in 2000. Childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity, and to higher risk for conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Getting kids to eat well and exercise is crucial, but figuring out how to do that effectively is extremely difficult - and sensitive. For some, the app was a reminder of bad childhood experiences around weight and shame, in public and at home.

"I don't think we appreciate the bias and stigma that families struggling with weight face," said Stephanie Walsh, medical director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. That can make it even more stressful for parents worried about their children's health, she said.

There is no easy answer for achieving a healthy weight, regardless of age. But when it comes to addressing the topic with children, pediatricians and dietitians say there are best practices to consider.

Talking it out

Parents may feel a conversation is not necessary, particularly with younger children, and that they can alter behavior by making lifestyle changes. But experts say a talk can be constructive, especially if the changes are going to be noticeable.

The key is to approach the subject with kindness and caring, and avoid blaming any of the child's behaviors. Children should also understand that any changes would be intended to make them feel better, and not about how they look.

"In some ways, just to get it out there may be sort of a relief," said Tommy Tomlinson, an author who recounted his lifelong struggle with weight in The Elephant in the Room.

Making changes

Any adjustments to meals and activities should involve the entire family, so children don't feel singled out. This is tied to the belief that the most powerful way to help a child change their behavior is by setting an example.

Framing changes in a positive light is also key, Walsh said, whether that's suggesting new recipes to try together or asking about activities they might be interested in.

"Keep things upbeat," she said.

Associated Press

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