Preventing childhood obesity may begin at home, but there’s plenty nurses can do to help parents embrace healthy lifestyle choices, says Rita John, DNP, EdD, CPNP-PC, DCC, director of the pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program at Columbia University School of Nursing.
For tips about diet and exercise to stick, clinicians need to take the time to interview families about their habits, John says. “Using motivational interviewing to see where the family is at in terms of their understanding of obesity and their desire to make changes is critical,” she says. “Until kids reach adolescence, parents control their access to food and their access to exercise. To help the kids, you have to understand how the family functions.”
This September, National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, John offers parents some guidance on how to help kids maintain a healthy weight:
Involve the whole family: Don’t nag kids to exercise or talk to them about their weight — it contributes to low self-esteem and makes them feel like a failure. Instead, lead by example. Have the whole family take walks, go to the playground, or explore a museum. “Anything the family does that keeps kids moving and avoids sitting staring at a screen is going to help,” John says. Cooking, too, can be a family affair. “Parents don’t need to talk about making changes, just getting kids involved in cooking and physical activity can make a difference.”
Emphasize activity: A lot of schools have cut back on extracurricular sports and gym classes, making it more important that parents try to get their kids into activities in the community. “I emphasize physical activity because that’s something where you have more control as a parent during the school week,” John says. School lunches vary in quality, and kids may not always eat the healthy lunch you pack at home. “They may not always eat what you want them to at school. So for weight management, it’s important to provide as many opportunities as possible for exercise.” If all else fails, screen time can be your ally. “Computer-generated exercise can help — there are a number of computer games that let kids play games while they move.”
Nurses can help: When your clinician asks a lot of questions about your family’s lifestyle, they’re trying to help your child by learning what you eat, when you exercise, and what may motivate you to change. “The clinician needs to know what the whole family eats to help propose changes for the whole family that can benefit an overweight child,” John says. Both money to buy healthy food and availability of healthy food can be an issue with weight management, so exercise may be beneficial to families with limited choices. In addition, parents may view an overweight baby as a healthy baby. “Before a family can change, the family needs to perceive that there is a
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