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Taunting may affect the health of obese youths

Study finds it leads to suicidal thoughts, high blood pressure

Published: Wednesday, July 11 2007 12:02 a.m. MDT

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that children have grown significantly fatter in the past three decades. Among 6- to 11-year-olds, for instance, the percentage of children who are overweight climbed from 6.5 percent in the mid-1970s to 18.8 percent in 2003 and '04.

At the same time, specialists said, American society is more obsessed than ever with idealized images of wafer-thin celebrities, a phenomenon that may be fueling the impulse to ridicule.

"We live in a society that is extraordinarily weight conscious," said Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Children's Hospital Boston.

Ludwig and other specialists said that before designing a regimen to help children shed pounds, it's imperative that children and parents address teasing, and acknowledge in a straightforward fashion that the child is, in fact, overweight.

Paradoxically, taunting appears to discourage heavy children from getting exercise, according to studies and physicians.

"A lot of children, because of the teasing, refuse then to go swimming - they don't want to put a swimming suit on," Lenders said. "A lot of children prefer to stay home, watch TV, and not interact with their peers."

Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston offers the following advice to parents of overweight children.

Parents shouldn't overreact to tales of teasing, but should show empathy, saying something like, "That must have felt awful."

Listen respectfully before offering suggestions.

Teach coping strategies such as focusing on positive qualities, ignoring the teaser, and imagining being protected from the teaser, perhaps by a shield that deflects the words.

Talk to your child about children who tease, including that they often tease because they feel scared, unhappy, or bad about themselves.

Teach your child how to stay calm in the midst of teasing, perhaps by role-playing different scenarios.

Consider encouraging your child to write down hurtful things that were said and come up with a way to respond.

Encourage your child to make a joke to defuse the tension with the teaser.

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