Obesity in Children

Do you have any ideas for helping a pre-teen child who is seriously overweight? He loves food and gets extremely disappointed when we turn down his requests for snacks and treats. He also becomes depressed after several days of healthy eating. How can we reverse this trend?

You’re right to consider this a very serious problem. At the moment your major concern shouldn’t be with your child’s happiness – with what he “loves” or doesn’t “love,” or the fact that he “becomes depressed after several days of healthy eating.” At this point you should be focusing on doing everything you can to save his life. If he is clinically obese – a question you need to settle with your family physician at the earliest opportunity – then he is at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, vascular disease, stroke, arthritis, emotional illness, and early death. That’s not to mention that obesity has dire implications for a child’s self-esteem. Overweight kids are often teased and bullied in school. Sometimes they react by becoming bullies themselves.

We suggest that you make a determined effort to focus on five things: 1) better nutritional choices; 2) an increase in physical activity; 3) eating meals together as a family; 4) better rest and recreation habits; and 5) wiser media choices, which basically means severely reducing time in front of the TV, computer, or video game terminal. It’s crucial that you make this a family project. One of the first things we’d advise is to turn off the TV and begin taking walks in the evening several times a week. If you don’t work together to establish healthier habits in your home your son will never be able to embrace the dramatic lifestyle changes he desperately needs to make.

By the way, contrary to the concern you’ve expressed, there’s no evidence whatsoever that eating healthy, nutritious food leads to depression. It is possible, however, that your child has become accustomed to having so much sugar in his diet that he tends to “crash” when you take him off the junk food. There’s also a slight possibility that he could be suffering from some kind of endocrine problem. This is another question that you need to take up with your pediatrician or family doctor.

As a supplement to these home-based activities, you might also want to talk to your son’s teacher and let them know that you’re attempting to help him make healthier eating choices. Perhaps the teacher would be willing to monitor your child’s eating habits at school. You can maintain a degree of control over his caloric intake during the day by packing him a nutritious lunch instead of allowing him to eat in the cafeteria. If you’ve been giving him money to buy snacks or soft-drinks from school vending machines you will, of course, want to stop that immediately.

However you decide to approach this problem, it’s important to keep in mind that your child needs to be reassured of your love and acceptance throughout the entire process. In other words, do what you can to help him lose weight, but make it clear that his place in your affections does not depend upon his success in achieving that goal.

For more help and information you may wish to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our counselors are all committed Christians and licensed marriage-and-family therapists.


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