Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
Both my daughters, ages 6 and 9, are overweight. However, my husband is skinny and likes having chips, candy, and other junk food around. I feel those foods should be banned from our home as the girls eat it too. I try to cook healthy meals, but my husband is a meat and potatoes man, and must have his rolls and butter. I've told my daughters to not eat sweets, but they sneak it anyway, or my husband gives them a candy bar for finishing their homework. The pediatrician only mentioned that they should exercise more, nothing about dieting. Should I put them on a diet? What can I do?
At Wit's End
Dear At Wit's End,
Being overweight in childhood can lead to obesity in adulthood. The risk of death is increased for overweight adults, so you have legitimate concerns.
Try to get your husband to understand how important it is for the both of you to help your daughters now, and guide them toward good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. Both of you need to set the example and be good role models by eating healthier and exercising. You might have your daughter's pediatrician talk to your husband if he refuses to help.
Be sure and let your daughters know you love them no matter how much they weigh or how they look. But, you are concerned for everyone's health, so the whole family will be eating healthier and exercising. Do not put your daughters on a diet and never nag them about their weight.
It's very important to never reward a behavior with food, nor to punish behavior by withholding food. Instead of giving your daughters a candy bar for finishing their homework, play a game or read with them. Just a quick game of cards or read just a couple pages from a book. Kids would much prefer the attention of their parent to something to eat.
You can help your daughters, as well as you and your husband, lead a healthier lifestyle by incorporating these habits into your routine:
HEALTHY EATING HABITS
1. Gradually increase their daily exercise. For example, tonight after dinner, go for a walk. Another day, play basketball with them (just 10 minutes, gradually increase the time). Buy them a jump rope. Have them join a team sport such as soccer, basketball, or baseball.
2. Gradually decrease the junk food lying around the house and increase the variety of healthy snacks. Don't ban sweets altogether, teach them moderation. Banning sweets will only make them crave it more. Kids are always hungry and like to munch throughout the day, so be sure there are lots of different healthy snacks from which they can choose.
3. Gradually decrease the amount of fat used in cooking. For example, cook leaner cuts of meat, trim off the fat, and use skinless chicken pieces. Instead of using oil or butter in a pan, use a non-stick pan.
4. Have your kids drink more water. The whole family should be drinking lots of water throughout the day. Also, if they don't already, have them drink 2% milk, not whole milk. You could also ask your pediatrician if it's okay for your daughters to drink 1% milk.
For more information on childhood obesity, see the American Obesity Association website at www.obesity.org.