Slimming Down: It's a Family Affair

Even if only one of your children needs to work on weight control, the whole family should get involved in healthful eating and exercise, medical experts say.
Even if only one of your children needs to work on weight control, the whole family should get involved in healthful eating and exercise, medical experts say. (By Ariel Skelley -- Corbis)

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By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's no secret that our young ones are expanding in size: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that, nationally, 19 percent of children and 17 percent of teenagers are overweight.

But knowing the statistics doesn't help you deal with the problem, which can lead to health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.

So, what to do?

Sandra Hassink, director of the pediatric weight management clinic at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., says parents and children must view weight loss as a journey, one that can be lengthy and full of obstacles, but one that ultimately will send them in the right direction. And parents have to be there every step of the way.

In her new book, "A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Roadmap to Health," Hassink writes that a number of factors are contributing to the obesity trend: schools cutting back on physical education and stocking up vending machines; children spending more time in front of computers and televisions; and busy parents preparing easy-to-make, calorie-laden convenience foods, just to name a few.

"Parents have to see themselves as the manager of the situation, and no manager worth his salt would try to manage with no time to think," Hassink says.

Here are some tips to help manage your journey.


Parents need to remember that "your habits are their habits," Hassink says. So let your children see you snacking on a bag of carrots, rather than a bag of Fritos.

"If only one family member has a weight issue, it's still a group process," says Arthur Frank, medical director of George Washington University's Weight Management Program. "You cannot single out one person in the family and say, 'You're on a special diet. Everybody else, eat hearty.' "

Physician Susan Okie, a Bethesda-based contributing editor to the New England Journal of Medicine and a former Washington Post reporter, agrees: "Everybody has to give up the Mint Milanos around the house."


Make the foods you want your young ones to munch on more accessible. "Have fresh fruit out available in a bowl where they're going to grab it," Okie says. Then clear out the fridge and cupboards of junk food. After all, if Oreos aren't in the house, little ones might not ask for them as often.

Get rid of soda, too, which tops the list of seven food sins by family nutrition expert Lisa Hark, host of TLC's "Honey We're Killing the Kids!"

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