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The Overweight Child: Promoting Fitness and Self-Esteem

The Overweight Child: Promoting Fitness and Self-Esteem

by Teresa Pitman, Miriam Kaufman

Children, like adults, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some are tall, some are thin and some are not. Because of society's obsession with thinness, being larger-than-average is difficult for youth. Most children are teased about something, and probably nothing hurts more than being teased about weight. It's painful for parents to see their child's


Children, like adults, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some are tall, some are thin and some are not. Because of society's obsession with thinness, being larger-than-average is difficult for youth. Most children are teased about something, and probably nothing hurts more than being teased about weight. It's painful for parents to see their child's self-esteem suffer, while they worry about the result of extra weight on their child's health.

Parents can help overweight children cope by increasing their child's overall fitness level through healthy eating and added activity. Dieting and strict fitness regimes, which can be extremely difficult to impose on a child, are not the answer. Bolstering the child's self-esteem and to develop a positive body image no matter what size is the most important task.

In The Over weight Child, Teresa Pitman and Dr. Miriam Kaufman, provide practical advice for parents and caregivers of overweight children. The authors examine the link between television and weight gain, offer suggestions for coping with teasing and negative feelings, outline kid-tested ways to improve fitness for the entire family, and even include recipes that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Editorial Reviews

This book offers parents tools to help children be happy and comfortable with their bodies, no matter what the size.
Staten Island Advance - Tamara Valles
Practical suggestions for coping with teasing and negative feelings, and outline kid-tested ways to get started maintaining a balanced diet and realistic fitness regimen.
Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Charlotte W. Lewis, MD, MPH (University of Washington)
Description: This book was originally published in Canada as All Shapes and Sizes.
Purpose: The authors' intent is to provide guidance to parents who have an overweight child, both in terms of promoting a healthy lifestyle and ensuring that all children have self-esteem. Despite an abundance of self-help books for adults who are overweight, very few books are available to help the overweight child and their family. The authors' objectives are met.
Audience: This book is written for parents of overweight children, but the advice is practical and could be useful for all parents and for healthcare providers who work with children. The authors are Canadian, I believe, and are not well known in the U.S. scientific community. They have written other books for consumers on breast-feeding and adolescents.
Features: In this book the focus is on the promotion of healthy eating, fitness, and self-esteem in overweight children. It is easy to read and includes recent information and many tips for parents. The emphasis on self-esteem is very important and well-done. The cover is colorful and attractive but there are no illustrations within the text. Recipes for healthy foods are included in the appendixes but no nutritional information is provided on these foods.
Assessment: This is a practical and useful guide for parents and health professionals who are worried about an overweight child. The emphasis on promoting a healthy lifestyle, including the entire family, and the consideration of self-esteem makes for excellent reading. This appears to be the first release of this book in the U.S. It still contains terms and references unique to Canada, however, and some of these will be foreign to U.S. audiences.
3 Stars from Doody
Kim Foote
An excellent reference ... filled with practical ideas to help increase activity and promote healthy eating.
Indy's Child, June 2000
Library Journal
If being overweight is a problem for adults, it can be even more difficult for children, who must cope not only with negative messages from society but peer teasing and parental expectations as well. In addition to its presumed effects on physical well-being, being overweight adds emotional stresses that may confound attempts to help children attain a healthy body. The authors a pediatrician specializing in adolescent care and a mother of four who has written extensively on parenting do not espouse a specific diet plan. What they offer is information for parents on exactly what is considered overweight at different ages; the influence of heredity, diet, exercise, emotional factors, puberty, and medications on weight; how to deal positively with teasing and improve a child s self-esteem; how to increase a child s activity level and provide healthful foods, including snacks; and the effect television viewing has had on increasing sedentary behavior in all of us. Appendixes include ten things you should never say to an overweight child, ten easy ways to reduce fat, ten tips for eating out, tips for dealing with holidays and special occasions, and a small collection of recipes. There is also a very brief bibliography. No earthshaking revelations here, just a matter-of-fact collection of commonsense ideas presented in a reassuring, informative, and very readable manner. Recommended for general health and child/adolescent health collections. Anne C. Tomlin, Auburn Memorial Hosp. Lib., NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date:
Issues in Parenting Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt


Come and sit with us on a bench outside an elementary school and watch the kids arriving on this spring morning. It's warm enough today that some of them are wearing shorts instead of track pants; some are walking, some are riding bikes, some are dropped off by their parents. We have a mixture of ethnic backgrounds here, and you can hear parents saying good-bye in several different languages.

I can guarantee you that you'll also notice, if you watch for a little while, that children come in different shapes and sizes. See that group of seventh and eighth grade kids hanging around the baseball diamond? Some of the girls have been through puberty and are almost at their adult height; a few of the boys are tall, too, but most of them haven't yet had that growth spurt and they look surprisingly short beside the girls in their class.

And now watch this group of girls walking into the schoolyard. Three of them are wearing shorts and T-shirts; the fourth is dressed in sweatpants and a loose sweater. It's obvious why, too: she's fatter than her friends, and even though she probably feels the heat more than they do, her desire to cover her body is stronger than her need to feel comfortable.

She isn't the only child her size at this school. If you keep watching, you'll see many more — and you'll notice some larger-than-average parents, too. just as any group of ten-year-olds will include some short ones, some tall ones and many in between, so children will range from thin to fat.

The difference is that because of societal prejudices, being a fat child is a much more negative and painful experience than being a tall or short one. And it can be almost as painful for the parent who watches his or her child struggle against teasing from others, with the resulting damage to self-esteem. Parents worry, too, that the child will suffer serious health problems as a result of his or her weight.

If you are the parent of one of those children, we hope in this book to offer you reassurance, solid information and practical suggestions.

One of the things that has made this book difficult to write is the lack of neutral terms to describe the larger-than-average child. A smaller-than-average child can be slim, slender, slight, petite — even thin or waif-like has positive connotations in today's society. But how do you write about the heavier child when every word that might be used has such strong negative connotations? Just listen to them — fat, overweight, obese, heavy, chubby, husky.... Would you like to be described with any of those words? We remember hearing one child say that she was "fat-and-ugly" as though it were all one word. In addition, character traits are often linked to weight — lazy, lacking willpower, slovenly, stupid. The words that refer to overweight are all ugly words.

So how can we discuss this problem without a more neutral word to use? We've chosen, for the most part, to use "overweight" even though we don't like the connotations behind it — that there is some perfect, ideal weight that every person of a certain height should achieve. We have plenty of research to share with you to show how wrong that concept is. But "overweight" seems to us to carry less of the intense negative baggage than other words like "fat" and "heavy."

Our society is obsessed with weight and body size. This preoccupation is a serious problem. In a Chatelaine article on women's obsessions with thinness, the author, Suanne Kelman, interviews Jackqueline Hope, who is 5'7" and weighs 190 pounds. Hope feels comfortable and healthy at that weight and says, "I knew I was overweight but I really liked my body, and I couldn't understand why other people didn't. It was a pretty, Rubenesque body and it was mine, and I couldn't understand the hatred I would feel for it once I started to diet."

Then Kelman comments: "No matter how hard I try, I can't understand Hope's celebration of her 190 pounds of flesh. The thought of anyone parading nude in front of a mirror at 190 pounds literally makes me gag."

We find those comments terrifying. How can a larger-than-average child develop self-esteem and a feeling of being unconditionally loved when the society around her — and probably even her parents — finds her size so repulsive and disgusting?

People justify their bias against heavier children and adults by saying that weighing more than average is unhealthy. But the link between weight and health continues to be tenuous. Some researchers have suggested that it is repeated dieting that causes health problems for overweight people, and that those risks are much lower for those who maintain a consistent weight even if it is higher than average. Certainly, if your child is extremely overweight and you feel that there are health problems because of this (such as difficulty breathing or skin infections) you should speak to your doctor.

But there are many other unhealthy aspects of our lives that don't cause such strong emotional reactions. Would the author of the Chatelaine article write, "The thought of someone getting a suntan literally makes me gag?" In fact, tanning — clearly demonstrated to be unhealthy — is generally accepted and tolerated. Friends may encourage heavy sunbathers to modify their behavior, or express concern, but they don't feel disgusted or repulsed. Fat phobia is clearly based on something less rational than health issues.

If you walk through any art gallery and look at art through the ages, you can see that the idea of what constitutes an attractive body shape changes from era to era. Even fifty years ago, the ideal body shape was more rounded than it is today. And different cultures have different preferences regarding body shape and size.

All of us are susceptible to anti-fat biases. It can be difficult to find a physician who will make a realistic overall evaluation of an overweight child's health and not focus solely on his or her weight. In research studies, teachers have been shown to have more negative feelings about heavier students and to perceive them as "lazy."

It's also difficult for parents. If your child is larger than average and you are also struggling with your own weight, you may feel both guilt and anger. Did your child learn bad eating habits from you? Is his weight your fault — just like yours is? And thin parents may find it impossible to understand why the child doesn't just lose weight. It seems like such an easy task for them. One divorced father told his daughter, who had begun to "fill out" as puberty approached, "You're going to end up fat just like your mother." Yes, he intended that comment to hurt his ex-wife, but it was also very painful for his daughter.

People often excuse these hurtful comments by saying they make them for the child's own good. They hope to shame or embarrass the child into losing weight. In fact, they tend to have exactly the opposite effect. Only by demonstrating genuine love for your child — whatever her size — will you be able to help her work towards increased fitness. Over-weight children can be just as attractive, loving, kind, intelligent and lovable as any other child, and they need to have that confirmed on a regular basis. Living with a constant assumption that there is something wrong with who you are (such as your body size) leads to low self-esteem. This, in turn, can lead to lowered self-expectations and therefore lower levels of performance, in school, sports and socially.

If you, the adult reader, are also overweight, you may be surprised by some of the new research presented in this book. The problems of low self-esteem, feeling disgusted with yourself and enduring teasing or criticism from others may be all too familiar. However, if you have been through many cycles of dieting and weight loss, you might be expecting a recommended low-calorie diet for your child. You won't find that here because dieting doesn't work, not for adults and not for children. What you will find are ideas for changes that can help your entire family become fitter.

Weight and body size are far more than a health issue. In our society today, they are very emotional topics. We hope this book will help you get past any negative feelings and raise your child to be happy, confident and fit, no matter what his or her body size may be.

Meet the Author

Teresa Pitman, a mother of four, has been writing about children and parenting for more than 15 years. She contributes regularly to "Today's Parent" magazine. She has also written several parenting books and is a certified Childbirth Educator and a La Leche League leader.

Miriam Kaufman is a pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children. A graduate of Duke University and Queen's University, she specializes in the care of adolescents. She is an associate professor at the University of Toronto, and a past chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society's Adolescent Medicine Committee. Dr. Kaufman is the author of "Easy for You to Say: Q & A's for Teens Living with Chronic Illness or Disability;" and "Mothering Teens: Understanding the Adolescent Years." She is the mother of a teen and a preteen.

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