Parents, children and obesity

Obesity is increasingly recognized as a problem in society. Being too fat has all kinds of negative consequences that parents want to protect their children from. They take all kinds of initiatives if they are concerned about their child’s weight. These attempts often do not lead to the desired result. The reason for this is often that, because of everything that is published about this, the focus of their efforts is not on the health and well-being of their child, but on losing weight. This article answers the question of how parents should deal with this flow of information.


People are judged by their appearance. Anyone who physically deviates from what is considered normal usually receives a negative assessment at first. That judgment generally does not take long to be made, it is usually made in a split second based on an external feature. People who are short, thin or tall, who have poor skin or bad teeth, experience the consequences of this. If you observe the negative reactions of people on a terrace to the appearance of unknown passers-by, it becomes painfully clear that anyone who deviates by definition cannot give a good first impression to many people. The latter certainly also applies to overweight people. The negative judgment about someone’s overweight is further reinforced by a number of assumptions about other characteristics of the person in question. Many people think that overweight people are slow, lazy, stupid and have no self-control. This one-zero deficit does not remain just the first impression for overweight people, but continues to emerge throughout their personal and professional lives. For example, several studies have shown that overweight people are disadvantaged in the work setting. With identical qualifications, there appears to be a clear preference for non-fat applicants. Within work settings, prejudices about overweight people have a negative impact on salary levels and promotion opportunities. Most overweight people have tried to lose weight several times in their lives without success. The reactions of the environment and the inability to reach a weight accepted by others can lead to intense feelings of shame, failure and rejection.

Parents are blamed

Parents who have overweight children often experience the consequences of the reactions from their environment to an even greater extent. They are often overweight themselves and are judged not only on their own appearance, but also on the perceived inability to get their children to slim down to a normal weight. The feeling that they are failing in their upbringing is confirmed, among other things, by television programs in which parents of overweight children are extensively pointed out about their shortcomings by a team of professional counselors:

  • their parenting style is inconsistent
  • they shower their child with cake and sweets
  • they make it difficult for their child to exercise a lot

The message is clear: These parents are the cause of obesity and maintain it through their wrong way of raising children. However, the reality is completely different. Most parents want the best for their child, even if their child is overweight. These parents make all kinds of attempts to turn the tide for their child.

To fall off

People often try to reduce their child’s weight by putting them on a diet. They then give their child less to eat, or limit the amount of fatty foods. Recently, more and more literature has been released with diets that are specifically aimed at children. The aim of these diets is to achieve weight loss in the short term. The major disadvantage of diets is that they can generally only be maintained for a short period of time. Parents generally have to invest quite a bit of effort in following a diet: they often have to purchase different products, prepare food in a different way and they will have to keep a close eye on what exactly their child eats in a day. Furthermore, all kinds of problems can arise with their child who is imposed on the diet: they may not like the new food, or they may be looked at strangely at school if they are given an apple or a piece of celery as a snack instead of a cookie or chocolate. And how do you solve it when your child goes to a party: stick to the diet, with the risk of extra stigmatization and a sad child, or just let him enjoy the party snacks and drinks? All the effort parents put into following the new guidelines and overcoming the challenges of keeping their child on the diet often results in only modest and temporary weight loss.


Another approach chosen by parents is to let the child exercise by participating in a sport. The hope is then based on the assumption that a lot of exercise will lead to weight loss. An additional handicap for overweight children is the limitation of the ability to move caused by excess weight: reduced flexibility, inability to move the legs freely from each other, less endurance. This is certainly the case if the child is overweight or has little exercise training and can make it impossible for the child to participate equally in, for example, group sports, especially in the beginning. This increases the chance that people will drop out. If it turns out that weight loss is not always achieved through exercise, then the motivation to try another sport for both child and parent will have dropped to zero. Due to the great effort invested by parent and child and the often disappointing results, new attempts to do something about the child’s obesity are not made.

Healthy change is central

What is striking about the actions of parents with overweight children is that they mainly focus on achieving weight loss in their child. Given the reactions of those around us, this is not surprising. Parents know that their child’s obesity can lead to problems with acceptance by other children and stigmatization and fewer opportunities, even when they are adults. Of course, many parents’ concerns about their child’s health will also play a role in their attempts to do something about obesity, but weight loss remains the most important goal. However, it is not at all evident in children that a decrease in weight always means that health improves. This is largely because children need certain nutrients to grow. An example of this is the need to eat enough fat. Children who do not consume enough fat through a diet will probably lose weight, but the growth of the brain and nervous system can be very negatively affected. In addition, children sometimes grow in spurts and therefore it is sometimes not possible to compare their weight with a later weight. Weight gain does not mean that health is deteriorating, but it can be a normal, healthy growth spurt. When choosing which approach is best for overweight children, it is therefore important that you as a parent do not simply strive for weight loss, but rather focus primarily on improving your child’s health. The purpose of this book is to support parents in achieving and maintaining changes that promote the health of their child. This will often result in weight normalization, but health promotion comes first.

Not a simple matter

Parents who want to improve the health of their overweight child face a difficult task. It is often not easy to make changes. A major problem is obtaining sufficient support and cooperation. It is obvious that the parents must jointly make clear agreements about the change and support the changes. If this is not the case, it can lead to problems during implementation and maintenance. It is not convincing to the children if the parents argue at the end of the hot meal about the lack of dessert. Usually, other family members will also be confronted with the changes. Certain routines that exist in a family need to be changed, affecting all family members. It is not easy for many people to break habits. Opposition can then be expected in the form of complaints about meals without fried food and the lack of snacks such as peanuts, chips and pretzels. New habits also need to be learned. This can also cause resistance because the new food is not to the taste or family members object. Maintaining the changes becomes even more difficult. Because the goal is health promotion, the changes must become the new routines in the family. Only in the long term can these achieve the desired effect.

Reliable information

How can parents select the right changes and implement them properly? Many parents cannot do this on their own, but they can learn it. For example, they have to learn a lot about what are good and what are bad eating and living habits, but also about how they arise. They will also have to learn how to change existing habits and how to introduce new, healthy habits, as well as what problems may arise and how to solve them. This means that parents must look for reliable information that suits their situation. That’s not easy. For example, a lot is written about something like healthy food, it is very difficult for parents to estimate the reliability of this information. Newspaper articles in particular can be very confusing:

  • Many parents were previously taught that eating fruit is healthy. On March 31, 2010, several newspapers reported that eating fruit is much less beneficial than previously thought. Like other foods, it contains calories, which can cause obesity.
  • It is also known that you should be careful when eating eggs. No more than a few eggs per week was the advice a few years ago. On May 10, 2010, newspapers reported that an egg every day is actually healthy. An egg is a superfood .

Parents also receive health information about their products from the food industry:

  • In advertisements, products are directly or indirectly promoted as healthier than other products. It is claimed that light products contain far fewer calories and fats than comparable foods. By using the standard phrase “contains no added sugars”, the packaging of some products that do contain sugar gives the impression that there is little or no sugar at all.
  • The industry is also targeting parents of children with products that are not foodstuffs, but are promoted as essential to promote children’s health. Fish oil and vitamin preparations are examples of this. It is also impossible for parents to assess the reliability of this information.

Parents should also learn about other important things:

  • What food is good for growing children?
  • How do you know what’s in the products you buy in the store?
  • What are eating habits and how do they arise?
  • How can you influence a child’s eating habits?
  • What is the importance of exercise for children?

Where can parents get reliable information on these topics? The answer to these questions must be sought in the scientific literature. Many scientific disciplines have dealt with these questions and topics. These insights will be used to answer these and other questions in the series of articles, of which this article is a part. Where possible, these are translated into practical tips and instructions for parents who want their child to grow up into a healthy adult.

read more

  • History of ideal weight and BMI
  • How does taste preference arise in children?
  • Can you change eating habits?
  • Governments, obesity and children