Warhaft-Nadler believes change should involve the family in healthy eating and exercise. A child who's overweight should not be singled out. She works with a woman in her 40s whose mother worried about her size compared to her thinner siblings. "Everyone else could have ice cream; she could not. Now she's overweight and totally eats at her mother."
A better family approach is wanting more energy and to be stronger. Baumann tells her girls they want to care for their bodies to feel their best. Warhaft-Nadler says, “ ‘We are making changes to feel better.' It has nothing to do with how we look at all. Who knows what each body is supposed to be? It should be how bodies work."
The link between activity and health — and healthy size — is unassailable. The more active one is, the less pressure is placed on what one eats, Warhaft-Nadler notes. But parents need to use logic. Putting a son who is not physically active on the hockey team where he feels insecure is not a solution. Taking walks with him after dinner is.
Abramson says one way to interest kids in eating all kinds of food is having them help prepare them. They're harder to refuse. Warhaft-Nadler likes shopping as a family and trying new foods. Change can be fun.
Bodies in motion
Joel Perez teaches at Martial Arts World in Kissimmee, Fla., in part because martial arts helped him develop confidence as a child. His children, Crystal, 16, and Joel Jr., 6, started learning when they were toddlers.
He believes asthma and diabetes and weight have all gone up because Americans sat down. TV and video games have become a habit that limits kids. "Kids naturally have high metabolism and energy to burn, but they're being trained out of it. Complaints that children are hyperactive and don't pay attention have risen alongside that."
Exercise should be something you do because you like your body and want to take care of it, not punishment, Warhaft-Nadler says. "You deserve to be healthy and feel good."
She also tells parents to support their children in hobbies and passions that have nothing to do with weight. "You show they are loved and valued and they get a sense of accomplishment. It takes the pressure off aesthetics."
Greg Marshall, fitness director at the Gym at City Creek in Salt Lake City, suggests finding a supportive partner who is not the parent. "If it feels like a parent is telling a child what to do, it may feel like punishment."
A personal trainer, coach or other figure can support and provide direction. Then introduce activity of short duration a couple of times a week. Anyone is more likely to stick with an activity if it's enjoyable, so he recommends activities a child likes.
Marshall starts kids on resistant band exercises and calisthenics. Only very light weights are recommended. "You don't want to mess with their joints, tendons, growth plates. Kids aren't as coordinated as adults, so with heavy lifting they're at greater risk of tweaking their backs or hurting themselves. And they're still developing; you don't want to add a ton of resistance and blow anything out."
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