According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 17 percent of American children are considered obese, a number that has more than tripled since the 1970s. In fact, not only are more children becoming overweight and obese, but, according to The Obesity Society, they are also becoming heavier than obese children in years past, a fact that puts them at a five-times-higher risk of being overweight or obese as adults. As a result, childhood obesity has now become the nation’s most prevalent nutritional disorder among children and teens.
“This isn’t just a matter of baby fat,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. “These are kids who are putting themselves at risk for heart disease, depression, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and so much more.”
But while obesity seems to be reaching epidemic proportions, the good news is that obesity is one disorder that can be fixed.
“In most cases, childhood obesity is completely reversible or preventable,” says George. “But it starts at home, teaching children about staying active and eating and drinking the right foods. Unfortunately, in some cases that is easier said than done.”
That’s because weight is often a taboo subject, even among children.
“Discussing weight with someone of any age can backfire if you don’t approach it correctly,” says George. “But kids may not understand the conversation comes from a place of concern. They may view it as an attack.”
When that happens, children may increase their overeating, or develop an unhealthy obsession with dieting or starvation, which can be equally dangerous.
But what used to be a tricky conversation for parents may not have to be anymore, thanks to the findings from a new study from the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. The study revealed that framing the conversation differently can make a substantial impact.
“The study found that when you discuss healthy eating from an oral health standpoint, kids feel less threatened and are more likely to take the advice to heart,” says George. “When they think of it as protecting their teeth from cavities and taking care of their whole body, they don’t feel judged. They feel empowered. And if you start early enough, it can hopefully cut the risk of obesity ever being a problem in the first place.”