Dr. Wendy Anderson-Willis is a pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Anderson-Willis also provides outreach services at schools in underserved areas of Columbus as part of the hospital's Mobile Care Unit. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Obesity affects a staggering one-third of the children in the United States. It's a topic many parents are talking about with their children, but there's one word they should leave out of the conversation: fat.
Just like the swear word that begins with "f" and causes many parents to flip out if they hear it, some families are now enforcing a ban on the "fat" word, believing this f-word to be just as harmful as the curse word.
There is a stigma with the word fat , and it can demoralize people — it is the exact opposite of what we as parents want to do for our daughters and sons. I don't believe that parents should stop, or even scale back, talking to their children about health, weight or lifestyle changes — in fact, I think that should happen more often. But those conversations can be even more successful when the fat word is eliminated.
Obesity was recently classified as a disease by the American Medical Association, emphasizing the need to discuss weight — but, it is how parents talk to kids about being overweight or obese that will make the most impact on their health in the future.
Moms and dads, especially those who are dealing with their own weight issues, may not know the best way to bring up this sensitive topic. I tell parents that an important message to get across is that the fat on our bodies is active. It does not just sit there. The fat affects the health of the person who is carrying the extra weight in many ways. Obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, headaches, depression, irregular periods in women, cancer and so many more health problems.
It's also important to remember why being the correct weight helps a child. For example, healthy kids perform better in school, and studies have shown that a healthy breakfast starts them on the right track for a good day.
As you continue to see your pediatrician with your child, make sure you discuss with the doctor your feelings about making beneficial lifestyle and health changes in your family. Your pediatrician will review growth charts and let you know if your child's weight is going up too fast for his or her height. Remember, kids have the advantage of growth. Doctors can often help children slow weight gain and let height catch up.
While helping a child reach a healthy weight, the most important factor is to not use diets, as they can be dangerous to children who are still growing. Instead, parents should make simple changes and have the entire family participate. Some parents actually make changes to their family routines without bringing up the reason for the change. That way, no one is singled out and everyone benefits. For example, parents may stop buying soda and juice and have everyone in the family drink water, or they switch from 2 percent milk to 1 percent milk. And, parents can make fruits and vegetables fun using cut-out shapes — a great way to encourage children to eat them .
I think it's incredibly important to address your child's health needs, but not in a way that has you telling your child that he or she is fat. Don't use that word at home, even if you aren't speaking about your child. Remember, even children who have no challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight need to know that the word "fat" can be harmful. Certainly, your child's classroom is full of children with different body types. Dealing with people of different shapes and sizes in a respectful manner is a life skill all of our children can benefit from.
Everyone knows the four letter f-word that we aren't supposed to use, but I suggest you add the three letter f-word to the banned list as well. Children are watching and listening all the time, and this is a great way to be a positive role model while still helping your child develop the healthy habits that will serve him or her well into the future.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com.