As parents, we all want what is best for our children. It’s very common for parents to be worried about their child’s weight, whether “too low” or “too high.” Or, a parent may be concerned about “what if” it becomes “too high” or “too low.” I don’t blame parents for feeling this way. This worry is fueled by our culture sending parents the message that they need to be in control of their children’s weight. The “Super Mom” culture tells parents they need to feed their children in a certain way and that their children’s bodies need to be thin. I’d love to somehow relieve you of that pressure.
Parents, you are not in charge of your child’s weight. You did have an influence on it, if you and your child share DNA. Weight and body shape is mostly determined by genetics. Yes, food, fitness level, socioeconomic status, history of trauma and other factors influence someone’s weight. However, just like shoe size, eye color, skin color, and height, weight is mostly determined by one’s genetic makeup. Children’s bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes.
But, what about children’s health?
I’m not suggesting for parents to not focus on health. I’m a healthcare provider and care very much about people’s health. In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a new statement stating that pediatricians should not focus on weight when talking to their young patients. The statement highlights the potential harm that can be caused when there is a focus on weight when talking with children and adolescents. Restrictive feeding practices can lead to children being focused on food and can lead to them gaining more weight than their genetics determine. Dieting in adolescence has been shown to greatly increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. More than anything, a focus on weight can cause a child to ignore their body’s intake ability to regulate their intake. By teaching children that weight is something to be managed, we can set a child up for low self-esteem, dieting, and weight cycling.
Instead of focusing on weight, parents can teach children about healthy behaviors through modeling. For example:
- Having family dinners
- Offering a variety of foods
- Taking the time to stop and eat
- Prioritizing sleep
- Encouraging children to listen to their bodies when determining how much to eat (Maintain their ability to eat intuitively)
- Providing plenty of time for physical activity
- Talking positively about our own body and our children’s bodies
But, what about the “Obesity Epidemic?”
When I talk about weight neutral approaches to health, people ask me this question. An individual’s weight is different than a population’s collective weight data. (Side note: Per the CDC, “childhood obesity” rates decreased between 2010-2014.) Population-based changes to enhance children’s health would be eliminating food deserts (areas where the population doesn’t have access to fresh foods), reducing economic disparities, decreasing and properly treating childhood trauma, changing our country’s food policies and nutrition curriculum in schools, and making many neighborhoods safer to play in. If you are concerned about our country’s children’s health, environmental level changes are the best and most effective place to focus.
When should I be worried about my child’s weight?
If you are worried about your child’s weight, talk with your pediatrician or a pediatric dietitian about their growth charts and, if possible, out of earshot of your child. Your provider should make sure the plot points are accurately plotted on the growth chart. It’s also important for your provider to look at your child’s full growth history, not just the last 2 points.
Because childhood is a time of growth and development, a child’s weight and height need to be monitored. When assessing a child’s weight, it should only be compared to their own historical weight-for-age history that is captured on their growth chart. When we need to become concerned is when height-for-age or weight-for-age begin to drastically cross percentile lines, up or down. For example, if your child’s weight-for-age percentile has always been at the 25th percentile, and then jumps down to the 10th percentile, this would be a reason to stop and dig a little deeper for information of why this may be happening. The same is true if it crosses percentile lines from a lower to higher percentile. When a child’s weight-for-age or height-for-age crosses percentile lines, this could be a red flag that something is interfering with typical growth and development. For more detailed information about growth charts, you can read a post I wrote Growth Charts & What to Ask the Pediatrician.
It’s okay to be worried about your child’s weight even if there is not a problem. We are influenced by our culture and we want what’s best for our children. If you think this concern is affecting your child or how your feed your child, seek out support for yourself from a pediatric dietitian that understands the complexities of pediatric nutrition and family feeding.
This guest post is part of a four-part series addressing body image, family feeding, and eating disorders. Catch up on “Tips for Raising Body Positive Kids” , “Love [yourself] Like a Mother” and “Helping Your Child Develop a Strong Sense of Self”.
Family Feeding, Nutrition, Eating Disorders, and Body Image Resources:
Ellyn Satter Institute – www.ellynsatterinstitute.org
Southern Smash – www.southernsmash.org
McCall Dempsey – www.mccalldempsey.com
Sunny Side Up Nutrition – www.sunnysideupnutrtion.com
Mealtime Hostage – www.mealtimehostage.com
Our Mom Tribe – www.ourmomtribe.com
National Eating Disorders Association – www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming by Ellyn Satter
Love Me, Feed Me by Katja Rowell
Born to Eat by Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson
Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
Celebrate Your Body and It’s Changes, too by Sophia Renee Taylor
Local Eating Concerns and Body Image Providers for Kids and/or Teens:
Renee Avis, LPC (10+)
CAS Counseling (11+)
Meredith Delbridge, LPC (12+)
Meredith Kolk-Tomberlin, LCSW – Silber Psychological Services (all ages)
Mosaic Comprehensive Care (Medical Primary Care) (14+)
Lutz, Alexander & Assoc. Nutrition Therapy (all ages)
Laurea Glusman McAllister, LCSW (17+)
Christy Rogers, LCSW (14+)
Kate Sutton, LPC (12+)
Sandra Wartski, PsyD. – Silber Psychological Services (all ages)
Local Eating Disorder Treatment Facilities:
Veritas Collaborative (children and adults)
Carolina House (adults)
Let’s Make Our Children’s Schools Free of Diet Talk
Anna Lutz is a Raleigh mom of 3 and a Registered Dietitian with Lutz, Alexander & Assoc. Nutrition Therapy (www.lutzandalexander.com). She specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. Anna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Duke University and Master of Public Health in Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD). Anna is a national speaker and delivers workshops and presentations on eating disorders and childhood feeding. She is passionate about helping parents avoid the food battle and raise kids to feel good about food and their bodies. She writes about simple cooking, nutrition and family feeding at Sunny Side Up Nutrition (sunnysideupnutrition.com).
Follow and connect with Anna on social below: