Heart to Heart: Talking to Your Overweight Child About Health

Heart to Heart: Talking to Your Overweight Child About Health

How you talk about health with your overweight son or daughter can set them up for success - or failure. Use these tips to set your child on the path toward wellness.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Parents of overweight kids and teens often worry about their child's health. For good reasons. Children who are above a healthy weight are at risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a slew of other health problems.

But would telling your child about these long-term threats prompt him or her to lose weight? Probably not. Adults worry about the future. Children are often more concerned with the here and now.

How to help your child
The road to lifelong healthy habits is a long one. How you approach the subject with your overweight son or daughter can set them up for success - or failure. Use these tips to help get them on the right path:

  1. Don't focus on weight. Chances are your overweight child is already sensitive about his weight. Drawing attention to it can hurt his self-image. Being healthy means much more than a number on a scale.
  2. Highlight health instead. Emphasize how important good habits are for health in ways your child understands. Explain how getting regular exercise will give her more energy and possibly help her excel sports. Share how eating nutritious foods can help her concentrate better in school.
  3. Be positive. Eating vegetables should not be a chore. Getting healthy should be enjoyable. Point out how fun it will be to try a new activity or a new dish.
  4. Mind your language. Don't use negative words like "fat," "chubby" or "obese." Instead say "above average weight." Steer clear of the word "diet" or labeling foods as "bad." Diet makes healthy eating sound temporary when it should be a permanent lifestyle change. And many diets fail. Teach your children that all foods are OK in moderation.
  5. Help your child choose an activity he enjoys. If you force a child who dislikes team sports to play basketball, he'll view exercise as a punishment. Instead encourage activities he enjoys, like bike riding or swimming. And allow him to bring friends along. Kids are more likely to stick with an activity when friends also participate.
  6. Keep the peace. Don't bribe, threaten or reward your child with food or exercise. Also don't blame or yell at her about her weight. Making your child feel shameful or angry can set her up for failure, and possibly lead to an eating disorder.
  7. Get the whole family involved. Make sure your partner and other adults in your child's life are on the same page as you. Encourage the whole family to make healthy lifestyle tweaks. Children are more likely to be successful in changing their habits when they have support.
  8. Watch what you say about yourself. Be mindful what you say about yourself. If you say "I need to lose 10 pounds," "These pants make me look fat" or "I don't want to exercise," you'll send your child mixed messages about body image and health.
  9. Foster good self-esteem. Self-esteem comes from many other sources besides appearance. Compliment your child when he does well in school, shows kindness toward friends or cares for her siblings or pets. Celebrate your child's successes no matter how minor they seem.
  10. Know that actions can speak louder than words. Behaviors kids witness at home are the ones they're most likely to adopt for themselves. Remember, you are your child's biggest influence. If you drink sugar-laden beverages, don't expect your child to choose water. Create a healthy home environment by offering nutritious meals and snacks and planning active family outings.

Your child's doctor can also offer advice on how to talk to your child about weight and health. If you ask, he or she may even start the conversation for you at your child's next checkup.


  • American Dietetic Association. Talking to kids about weight. Accessed: 07/28/2010
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Talking health with your kids. Accessed: 07/28/2010
  • The Rudd Center for Food Policy. Parents: talking to your kids about weight. Accessed: 07/28/2010

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