Childhood obesity has been a growing issue over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of childhood obesity reached almost 18% in 2012, compared to 10% during 1998 through 1994.

In addition to the increase in childhood obesity throughout the Unites States, we are facing another issue which has been dubbed The Goldilocks Syndrome.

The Goldilocks Syndrome describes a widespread misperception among parents whereas they view their child’s weight as “just right” regardless of their weight status. It is not all that surprising that parents will say their children are perfect.

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Whether it be in comparison to other children or in their own loving eyes, what parent would want to say there is something wrong with their child?

In order to understand just how skewed the perception is, a study that was recently published online in Childhood Obesity, presented data looking at 2 groups of preschool children, aged 2-5 years of age; one group from 1988 through 1994 and the second group from 2007 – 2012.

Parents were asked if they thought their child’s weight was “underweight, overweight, or just right”.

It was reported that 97% of parents in the first group responded that their overweight child was “just right” and 95% of parents in the second group classified their overweight child’s weight status as “just right.”

These statistics show that despite an increase of childhood obesity, fewer parents are able to, or perhaps willing to, identify that their child is overweight.

As we know, eating and lifestyle habits start at a young age. Not addressing a child’s weight may seem protective but it can lead to health complications.

What makes this such a difficult situation is that what you say to a child will greatly influence them, possibly for life. So while it is not in a child’s best interest to ignore the weight issue, it must be approached strategically.

Here are 8 helpful tips to approaching your child’s weight:

1. Speak with your child’s pediatrician.

Make it a point to discuss your child’s weight with the pediatrician. All too often, as a parent, you might compare how your child looks to his friends. And, if the friends are a bit overweight themselves, your child’s weight might appear to you to be “just right”.

You may not take much notice to where your child falls on the growth chart yet this is an important assessment tool.

Set a plan in motion if your child is at the high end of the weight for age percentile by meeting with the pediatrician to get the appropriate referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist so your child can learn about nutrition in an age-appropriate manner.

2. Set an example of good health.

You are a role model for your children; your child mimics your actions. As a parent, adopt a healthy initiative in your home. Fill your home with nourishing food and snack choices, plan well-balanced meals and establish family dinnertime.

Speak to your children about health, nutrition and the healthy foods you are serving. This will pay off for both them and you.

3. Encourage your child to eat a variety of foods.

Children are often resistant to trying new foods. Gently encourage your child to try new foods, fruits and veggies and make it a family affair. Try not to single out your overweight child.

This will make him feel bad about himself. Instead, make changes that the whole family can benefit from. Have each child help plan and prepare one dinner per week. If they are involved in the planning, shopping and preparation, they will more likely be willing to try the new foods.

4. Encourage your child to be physically active.

Assess how active your child is on a daily basis. After school, do they spend time running around outside with friends and/or playing a sport, or do they come home and watch television?

Encourage activities that require movement and physical activity. This can be on a formal little league team or playing on the jungle gym at the park. It can even be a family walk around the neighborhood.

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The idea is to get your children active and moving.

5. Do not put your child on a diet.

Putting your child on a diet will inevitably lead to lifelong struggles with yo-yo dieting, restriction, and deprivation. Children who are told they can’t have dessert or sweets will resort to sneak eating and overindulging.

This will become a lifelong battle. They will grow to feel guilty if they want to have a snack with a friend or a piece of cake at a birthday party.

The last thing you want to teach your child is to feel guilty or bad for eating. Instead, encourage healthy wholesome foods with the right balance of “fun foods”.

6. Avoid distractions at meal time.

An important habit for the whole family to develop is to shut the television and electronics at dinner time. Get rid of all distractions so your child (and you!) can focus on the food you are eating and achieve full satisfaction and pleasure in eating. This will also allow him to tune into his fullness signals and stop eating before he is overfull.

7. Do not reward your child with extra T.V. time.

While allowing your child to enjoy a certain amount of screen time each day is normal, it is unhealthy for a child to spend hours looking at a screen such as a computer, tablet, or television.

Research has shown that increased screen time commonly leads to increased waistlines. Engage your child in outdoor activities, sign him up for after school sports or go bike riding together in place of television and computer time.

8. Do not reward your child with food.

Your child got an A in school, did a good deed for a neighbor, or helped a sick relative. Reward your child with a non-food related treat such as a special night out with mom or dad, a Sunday outing to the ballgame or a sleepover with his best friend.

Steer clear of rewarding good behavior (or punishing bad behavior) with food. Rewarding with food will set your child up with a negative relationship with food that will last a lifetime.

Do you identify with the Goldilocks Syndrome? Privately talk to your child’s pediatrician so the two of you can get on the same page about your child’s health!

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