It’s checkup season in the office and I’m seeing a lot of children who are heading off to camp or who play sports or who are moving on to middle or high school and need forms completed. Every child gets their height and weight measured and for many of the middle- and high school-aged kids, this can be a little anxiety producing. I thought it was mostly the kids who were anxious about the checkups and getting weighed and measured, but it turns out parents of older kids are anxious too.
Starting the year or so before puberty is really underway until children are about a year into it, many children look round. They have bellies and round cheeks and look less lean than they have in the past. Couple that with the fact that some kids are already in puberty and growing quickly, thinning out as they do, and many parents begin to worry that their child is overweight.
I am delighted on one hand that parents are concerned. Obesity is a real problem in the United States and too often parents ignore the fact and continue to give their kids sports drinks, sugary pop and junk food, and they don’t encourage daily outdoor play. On the other hand, sometimes having a parent too focused on a child’s weight can be a problem too. It can encourage an unhealthy worry about body image as well as negatively affecting self-esteem and sense of acceptance from the parent. It’s a fine line.
For many children in late grade school through middle school, though, looking round is not a sign of poor eating choices or poor health. Indeed, many children with this look will be proportional on the growth curve and are just wearing their weight in a way that makes them look round. Reassuring tweens/teens and parents alike that their bodies are merely storing energy for the growth spurt to come and that they will look thinner when that happens is all many families need. After explaining the body’s approach to getting ready to grow, many parents feel reassured and I encourage the kids to recognize that they will look lean again in a year or two as long as they make healthy choices.
Encouraging a healthy approach to eating with scheduled meals, fruits or veggies at each meal, milk drinking, snacking only when hungry, and limiting sugary drinks is still important, of course, as is daily physical activity. Parents who have this approach are likely to have teenagers who are healthy and at appropriate weight.