Health

Healthy role models: When parents lose weight, their kids will too

Sometimes the logic just shines through. A recent study examining childhood obesity determined that the number one predictor of success for helping children lose weight was if the parents lost weight.

Mom and two kids preparing a healthy meal

Masterfile

Sometimes the logic just shines through.

A recent study examining childhood obesity determined that the number one predictor of success for helping children lose weight was if the parents lost weight.

The logical part is that sustained weight loss involves a total and permanent shift in lifestyle. It requires a support structure and living in an environment that encourages both activity and healthy eating.

And it’s mostly about the eating.

See, this study showed that exercise doesn’t help kids lose weight. That’s because while physical activity is important for health and physical performance, it is very easy to undo even a substantial amount of exercise with a poor diet.

And obesity researcher Dr. Yoni Freedhoff ran the numbers on the dramatic increase in obesity in the last few decades and determined that while we are moving a little less, we are eating WAY more calories. He calculated that the increase in obesity is 83 percent due to an increase in calorie intake and 17 percent due to decreased activity.

You can put children in a physical activity program, but I can’t help but think they may feel stigmatized by such a thing. And as I’ve pointed out before, stigmatizing obesity has the opposite of the desired effect. My gut tells me putting overweight kids in a physical activity program can make them feel like it’s being forced on them just to burn calories, and it’s not anything they enjoy and feel like it’s some kind of torture adults are making them endure because they’re overweight. This is not a healthy attitude.

One physical activity I do endorse for overweight kids is weightlifting, which I examined in my LA Times column. The basic rationale is that they are often good at it, having substantial strength, and find it far more enjoyable than walking on a treadmill. It can boost confidence about physical activity and teach them to learn about the pleasures of exercise.

Having parents who lose weight with the aid of an exercise program helps the situation too. Making physical activity a family affair where people are active together because it’s fun is something that is more sustainable.

But still, it remains a food issue.

You cannot out-exercise a poor diet. If parents lose weight, it’s because they’re changing what they eat. Generally speaking, it means less eating out and more healthy, planned meals as a family. Getting kids to be active is easily undone if they come home to a pantry full of high-calorie snacks, or if pizza is regularly ordered or the drive through regularly targeted by the parents.

Kids adapt to their surroundings. The reasons why my kids are normal weight isn’t because of the physical activity. It’s because we rarely eat out and there is very little junk food in the house.

I often hear these words from my kids: “We have nothing to eat!” Here is my reply: “We have bananas and strawberries and apples and oranges and carrots and yogurt and nuts and…”

Then they storm off.

And a little while later, they come back and eat something healthy. Part of it is being a good role model for children. Showing that being active and eating well is a good thing, but also showing that “this is the way we do things is this family.”

And part of it is being a controlling ogre. I rule the food in our house. I say what we eat, but at the same time, I educate as to why we eat what we eat. Treats are far from forbidden, but my kids know that treats have their place. They know when they’re eating crap and they understand calories.

When parents lose weight, they learn these things. And then they pass it on.   

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