The American Psychological Association quotes a scary statistic—40 percent of American kids are overweight or obese—in an article looking at how parents influence a child’s body image.
The article was part of the organization’s recent annual convention, where Edward Abramson, a professor emeritus at California State University-Chico and author of “Body Intelligence” and “Emotional Eating,” spoke about how parents can help their children stay at a healthy weight.
In the past ten years, Abramson wrote, “we’ve seen a [tenfold] increase in Type-2 diabetes and psychological and social consequences, such as prejudice, rejection, discrimination and low self-esteem in children.” He added that better than 50 percent of overweight kids already have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
Add yet another item to the to-do list of modern parenting. We are supposed to be modeling healthy eating and exercise habits. As often seems to be the case, the responsibility is not evenly distributed. Mothers’ eating and exercise habits, according to Abramson, have greater effect than fathers’.
According to Abramson, bad eating habits include “emotional” eating, recreational eating (eating when not hungry) and unusual eating restrictions.
Many kids have built-in preferences for types of foods. But parents can get kids to try new foods by simply eating these foods—modeling behavior.
The same is true of exercise. Abramson points out that young children were six times as likely to be active when their parents are active exercisers.
Body image is key to healthy weight, he said, citing research studies showing that babies and toddlers usually like their bodies. But by the time girls reach the “tween” years, social influences have altered perception.
“Thirty percent of nine-year-old, 55 percent of ten-year-old, and 65 percent of eleven-year-old girls think they’re fat,” he said.
Kids need to be helped by parents to understand how body image influences their behavior, Abramson says. Let young kids pick the clothes they want to wear. Talk to older kids about body changes of puberty. Hardest of all, probably, is encouraging kids to make friendships with kids who aren’t focused on appearance.
By John Casey for Tonic