I was recently interviewed on a local radio station when the presenter brought up the fact that there is a fine line between promoting children’s health and body shaming. His comments have gone round in my mind a few times since then and I wanted to put my thoughts on paper!
We know now that obesity is one of the biggest health crisis of the 21st century, with 1 in 4 Irish children currently obese. COVID has been a wake-up call. For those living with overweight or obesity, the impact if they contract COVID-19 is greater than for those of a healthy weight. People with obesity are 4-6 times more likely to be hospitalised, and 2-4 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care. Alarmingly, there is a 33% increased risk of mortality too. The pandemic has highlighted the need for change is now more urgent than ever.
Yet as a nation, are afraid to public address it childhood obesity. Why? Is it because we are scared to upset the child? Is it because we now believe that everyone has a right to look as they choose? Is it because we must accept blame and we aren’t ready to do that yet? Why can’t we understand the difference between health and size?
I believe that there are several important things that jump out straight away. We must teach children to love themselves as they are and equally we must give them every opportunity to be fighting fit for life. Our aim is to make them as fit, strong, healthy and happy as possible which in turn makes it even easier for them to love themselves!
Firstly let’s get one thing straight; it is not a child’s responsibility to protect their own health. They do not do the shopping, or the cooking, or provide themselves with opportunities to be active! It is a parent’s responsibility to offer a healthy, active environment for children to grow up in and to teach children how to make healthy choices.
Secondly, a child does not need to know that they cannot have junk food or that they must walk more because they are fat! They do not need any comments or judgement on their bodies at all. Ever. What they do need is to understand the benefits of healthy eating, of being active, of good sleep, of drinking water and how making healthy choices makes them feel happy and strong.
Here are a few simple ideas to make sure you are not negatively focusing on your child’s appearance, or body shaming, but are focusing on health benefits as a whole.
- Be mindful of how you talk about your own body in front of them and make sure they aren’t listening to you berate yourself. Also analyse your own relationship with food. If you don’t eat fruit and veg daily it will be hard for your children to learn that they should.
- Never mention or discuss a child’s appearance with them but instead focus on the wonderful things their bodies can do and teach them how to protect their amazing bodies through good health habits
- Reduce their exposure to unhealthy food and drink. If there is no junk in the cupboard they can’t eat it!
- Teach them that there is so much more to health than just weight and teach them that when we love ourselves, we make choices that make us feel good.
- Treat it as a family thing. Targeting one child will only make them feel ashamed and embarrassed. Introduce small changes for the whole family that everyone can take part in
- Teach your children that they are so much more than just what they look like and build their confidence from within